Who Is The Public Information Officer?

Who is the public information officer? No really, who is it?

Got that name in mind? Great, now what happens when he or she is gone. No, not retired, but gone. Like (god forbid) hit by a bus or (again, god forbid) caught with their pants down? We spend an awful lot of time training people to back up a lot of our emergency response roles, but do we do that for our PIOs, too?

Okay, maybe you do. Good for you. The backup knows where the letterhead is and how to update the website, they are authorized to set up interviews and have gone through media training. Now think about what PIOs do and what is their most valuable asset. Consider how that is different than a lot of your operational and planning folks and the roles they fill? The most important thing that a PIO has and can offer is his or her relationships with the media. Working relationships that goes beyond how to write a press release. It’s about working with the reporters day in and day out and establishing trust and rapport.

Now think back to our little bus incident. If that happened tomorrow, and your organization got pulled into a brouhaha, would the media’s trust (or lack thereof) in your backup PIO hinder your ability to get information out? When what you say in a crisis (and what the media reports) is as important as the response itself, are we setting ourselves up for failure by only having media relationships through one person?

That’s the thrust of this article on Dan Hicks’ blog, Communicating Through a Crisis, Spokesperson And Others in Crisis Plan Need an Alternate. It’s a quick read, but gives a shocking example that’s left the University of Texas, San Antonio scrambling.