Professional associations are vital to the success of those who work as Public Information Officers. They provide support, learning and networking opportunities. When you're working in such a challenging role in often very difficult circumstances, a great network of like-minded people can be a lifeline.
We wanted to highlight the work of PIO Associations and their key members. The National Information Officers Association is one of the key groups when it comes to furthering the profession of Public Information Officers.
We spoke to the current President, Ashley McDonald about the ongoing work of the NIOA across the US.
In addition to fulfilling this vital role, Ashley is also the Public Information Officer and Programs Coordinator for Rutherford County Government, TN. She is also a FEMA Emergency Management Institute Master PIO (Class of 2019).
How did you become involved in the NIOA?
When I became a PIO back in July 2012, my colleagues in law enforcement for the city and our local university urged me to join. In August 2012, the NIOA annual conference was held in Nashville, TN, and that was actually my first “PIO training” experience. I was hooked.
The educational components and networking proved to be invaluable. I’ve been to the conference every year thereafter (with the exception of 2017 when my son was born).
I became interested in serving on the Board in 2016, but was unable to run, for the same reasons I didn’t attend the 2017 conference. I ended up running for VP in 2018, was sworn in as President in 2019, and due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, I actually became the first two-consecutive term President our organization has ever had. Talk about motivation to move the organization forward! That is just one of the reasons that achieving our goal of developing a professional credentialing and designation process for PIOs is so important to me!
We need to highlight the importance of the position (of PIO) any way we can and as often as we can.
What do you think is one of the most common misconceptions about being a PIO?
It pains me to hear people refer to this position as “spokesperson.” Maybe in their earliest form public information officers could be labeled as such, but the position has evolved so much since those days. PIOs are trusted strategic advisors, visual storytellers, social media administrators, media liaisons, and much more.
If you could improve one thing in the profession, what would it be?
I’m very passionate about giving this role its credit where credit is due. The public information officer is often times overlooked in the incident command structure, yet we know it’s one of the top three positions on the ICS organizational chart and one of the most critical depending on the nature of the incident.
We need to highlight the importance of the position any way we can and as often as we can. This is precisely why I think it's imperative that we stay the course toward the development and implementation of a professional credentialing and designation process for the position.
I truly believe that 2020 substantiated most agencies’ need for the PIO position, but I feel we must continue to highlight its value.
What's the best thing about your job?
Every day is different. Sure, on your worst days, you get criticized by “keyboard warriors” for a social media post or you have to give a sound bite on an unfortunate incident to the media, but on your best days you’re planning/hosting fun events or even saving someone’s life with the information you relay to the public.
It’s multi-faceted, and there is never a dull moment for sure. It is very rewarding in many aspects, and that is something that I do not take for granted.
I truly believe that 2020 substantiated most agencies’ need for the PIO position
What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a PIO?
Network. Network. Network. Get to know the other PIOs in your area and across the nation. Get involved in professional PIO organizations such as the National Information Officers Association. Having a cache of PIOs in your toolbox who have been there/done that is a tremendous asset when you are faced with the same or a similar issue.
Train hard. Train often. Get all the PIO training you can get your hands on, and then get more. Make sure these aren’t just classroom exercises or tabletops…get realistic, practical training and experience.
The National Information Officers Association, its Executive Board and members host a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience that are beneficial to PIOs with any level of experience. Find out more on our NIOA profile page.
You can connect with Ashley on LinkedIn
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