The National Association of Government Communicators is running it's comms school in Portland, OR April 18-20 and as official media partners for the event, we've had the great opportunity to hear from the speakers at the event. Find out more about them here.
What is your session for NAGC called?
Leadership Insights for Public Involvement: Leadership, Followership and Engagement
Tell us a little about what you do and how you got there
A former reporter for The Arizona Republic, I fell into public relations work while serving in law enforcement after leaving full-time journalism. After working as a PIO for public school districts in suburban Phoenix, I moved to the Arizona Department of Transportation in 2006, emphasizing safety initiatives (using a little humor) and developing robust social media channels as the director of communications and public involvement. In 2021, I transitioned to the Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County -- which includes the Superior Court, and the Adult Probation and Juvenile Probation departments and Juvenile Detention -- as the director of communications.
What is it about communications, media or crisis comms that interests you so much?
Working to help community members engage with their government, and understand how government works every day for the benefit of the community, is what motivates me as a PIO and as a public servant. For me, it's never been about spin or deflection but developing conversations, sincerely engaging and working to support vibrant and diverse communities. As a PIO, we have that influence.
What do you love about your job?
When I can uncover a great story from the organization to tell, that's always a win. Whether it is for a news release, a community presentation or a classroom lesson, uncovering those stories of how and why government works motivates me every day.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Breaking through the perception that a PIO is a member of the media from the internal perspective can always be a challenge -- developing trust, confidence and a level of responsibility takes time and nurturing.
What are some of the more memorable events you’ve had to deal with in your role and what lessons did you learn?
From bridge collapses to officer-involved shootings to combating disinformation campaigns, there are memorable events that have shaped my approach and perspective as a PIO. Some of the most profound lessons, however, have come not from the big stories but from the community engagement meetings where I can listen, understand and relay that perspective back to the organization. Helping community members understand and appreciate the processes that governments must follow is key, even if they disagree.
Can you give one piece of advice for those who want to start a career in Government communications?
Tell the truth. Always.
What are your favorite tools you use to do your job more effectively?
I tend to travel light, but I always have my LTE-enabled iPad, a reliable pen and some paper close at hand. Many times, the best tools I have are a firm handshake, a warm smile and commitment to listen -- regardless of the situation.
What would you say to anyone in a leadership role about having a PIO or comms professional who might not have one?
Tell the truth. Always. And have a trusted, competent professional communicator who can help you accomplish that. Look at the PIO's role as more than media relations. While that's one aspect, there is more to engagement with the community beyond the media -- especially today.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about, recommend or promote?
Never stop learning, honing your skills or listening. Not doing those things is a surefire way to lose credibility, trust and value as a PIO.