Get Out of the Way

weather reports
We are very lucky to have an amazing independent weather outlet in the Philly area. The folks at Phillyweather really get into the science of the weather and why it affects us in a particular way. When forecasting, they’ll make a call, but only after presenting all of the models and possibilities. They present the weather then get the hell out of the way. Which, if you ask me, is much better than the rigmarole you see on most morning newscasts.

The image above was tweeted from their Twitter account recently, and it really struck a chord with me. While I think that most PIOs understand that we need to get out of the way and let the doctors and chiefs and subject-matter experts do the talking, I wonder if even that small bit of control (talk now, not another time) is too much.

Think about it this way: message control does not cover just the message (the what, basically). It’s also about the who, the when, the where and the how. Who speaks, when they speak, where they speak and how it’s said all tell volumes. For my seasoned PIO friends out there, how many fights with news agencies have you gotten into over just those questions? These things are important because they affect how the message received and perceived.

Now, I’m not saying we should allow our employees to call up the media whenever they want and spout off on whatever topic comes to their head. Far from it. I think, though, that there is a middle ground. And that’s because of what social media gives us.

Your agency’s blog (you do have one, right?) is probably full of posts by your Executive, or your communications staff. (Or really hopefully at least there are some posts.) And then something newsworthy happens and you ask a subject-matter expert to write about it. In a format that they’re not familiar or comfortable with, under a deadline that they feel stressed about, and to readers who don’t know this lady from a hole in the wall. This is supposed to be helpful?

My point, and it naturally follows from last week’s post on having others write for your agency, is that we need to get the hell out of the way. Let your agency shine through every day. Give your experts the podium they deserve. Build them a following (or let them build a following).

Everyone who does the work we do knows the world is changing. Our traditional gatekeepers–the media–are going away, getting fired, or getting outgunned by citizen journalists. That means that the role that they provided us with (being a medium upon which we could conduct messaging to the public) is going away. This is the next true calling of PIOs and communicators: to be the media through which the public and our agency’s really smart guys and gals can talk.