With a great combination of unwavering passion and wide-ranging media experience, Adam Myrick of the Lexington County Sheriff's Department has been able to inspire a whole new generation of communicators. Adam talks about what drives him and what the department are looking for in their next hire.
Please explain what your role entails and a little about the agency you work with.
As a member of Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon’s executive staff, I hold the rank of captain and lead the department’s public information unit. I’m the primary spokesperson and media liaison for the agency. I’m responsible for media relations, crisis communication and issues management, along with the agency’s video productions, social media and digital content.
The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department is a full-service law enforcement agency dedicated to serving the citizens of Lexington County. The Sheriff’s Department is an internationally accredited agency headquartered in the Town of Lexington. In addition to providing law enforcement services in unincorporated areas, the Sheriff’s Department also is responsible for the operation and security of the Lexington County Detention Center. The department comprises more than 500 employees, approximately 400 of whom are sworn.
Tell us about your background and how you came to this position.
I’m an old media guy, a “recovering broadcast journalist” to be precise. I covered presidential visits, Britney Spears concerts and everything in between. I started in the media business in 1995 as a freelance correspondent at my hometown newspaper. I went on to cover news and sports as an anchor, reporter, and producer at radio and television stations, and broadcast networks in South Carolina and Dallas, Texas. I love it so much I did freelance writing and voice work for a couple of national radio networks for more than 12 years until 2018.
I jumped to the “other side of the news” in 2004 when I became a public information officer and spokesperson for one of South Carolina’s largest and most high-profile state government agencies. Sheriff Koon reached out to me shortly after he took office in the Spring of 2015.
I was interested right off the bat because I relish a fast-paced environment. Sheriff Koon and I hit it off immediately and I decided to pursue the position. A few weeks later he formally hired me and a few weeks after that I was at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy pursuing my certification. I’ve been having the most fun of my career ever since.
You have a big role in addition to being a PIO and that is being a trainer for FBI-LEEDA. Why do you do this and what do you get out of it?
I’m proud to be a part of the FBI-LEEDA instructor team. There are five us who teach the Media and Public Relations course. Fortunately, we’re staying busy as agencies across the U.S. realize informing and engaging their community has to be a top priority. I do it because I’m passionate about helping others share their respective department’s story. I’ve seen the precepts we teach work in real life. Candidly, I’ve seen them work in some high-pressure and less-than-ideal situations. There’s no substitute for proactively sharing information with your community about your cases, your people, your programs. That fosters community trust like nothing else.
I love teaching because I get to learn from others. I see how other PIO shops function in other parts of the country. It’s an “iron sharpening iron” thing. I learn as much from a class as they learn from me. We help each other, we exchange ideas, we share templates and video concepts. And that continues down the road. We consult each other when we face a tough issue. The instructors all do the same. We’re a tight group.
You're big on empowering aspiring PIOs with the fundamental skills and knowledge they need to do the job well. What would you say are the vital attributes of a PIO?
Helping a PIO set a foundation of solid writing and interview skills is my true passion. I was fortunate to have that from my mentor, Thom Berry, who would receive a PIO lifetime achievement award if there was such a thing.
I think strong writing skills are a must. It really all comes down to writing in this position. You might be writing a news release, talking points, a speech or a social media post…but it’s all still driven by the written word. You have to write tight and in a way that’s easily understood by a 10-year-old boy, a 90-year-old grandmother and everyone in between.
And I’ll always drive home the importance of being accessible and responsive. Both of those go for internal and external customers.
There’s no substitute for proactively sharing information with your community about your cases, your people, your programs. That fosters community trust like nothing else.
You're a big proponent of the AP Stylebook - why is this so important in the role of PIO?
Associated Press style is how media outlets write, or it should be. While adherence to AP style might not be as prominent as it once was, it’s still the benchmark PIOs should strive for in our writing. Is it e-mail or email? Is it drive-through or drive-thru. AP style helps us with this. By the way, it’s email and drive-thru.
The less editing a media outlet has to do to our content before publishing, the better off we are. If we send them a news release that’s full of spellings and word usages that contradict AP style, then they have to edit and make all those changes. If we ship stuff consistent with AP style, less editing is needed and we haven’t frustrated those we serve in the newsroom.
You're currently looking for a Digital Communications specialist to work in your team. What do you think this person could bring to the department and what do you think they need to have to make them stand out?
This is an important position. It’s high-profile and integral to what Sheriff Koon wants for us a PIO unit. This is an ideal position for a creative professional who wants to work in a fast-paced shop with things changing all the time. Two people have held the position previously and they each brought their own influence into it. We’re looking to build on the momentum of the highly engaged social media community we have. Social listening will be a key part of that. Someone who can shift gears depending on emerging issues and breaking news will be a good fit. Content development and gathering will be a big part of the next person’s success. That’s done best outside of headquarters. That’s why the post comes with a take-home car. No lights and siren, but the coolest Chevrolet Impala you’ve seen in years.
Tell us about a time when good media handling or community engagement has improved something within your department.
We’ve had a lot of these. We’ve had a lot happen in the six years Sheriff Koon has been in office. One that comes to mind is a movement that took hold in a pocket of our community that really blossomed and took hold on social media. The residents felt they weren’t seeing us enough. They said they weren’t seeing deputies on patrol, they said they weren’t getting the level of follow-up they expected after a property crime. Because of our engagement on social media and the “listening” we do within Facebook groups, we picked up on this early on. Members of command staff were plugged in too and they were listening to people. But there’s a great difference between what someone will say to your face and what they’ll type in a group on Facebook. We watched those comments and monitored those posts. That put the department in a better position when we went to the community and held a public meeting to hear from them.
Give us a rundown of your day to day communication activities
I don’t know of a way to handle my job other than treating it like Hotel California… I check out but I never really leave. That means I’m always plugged in to some degree.
First thing I do when I wake up is grab the phone and make sure I didn’t miss a call overnight. Then I search local media to make sure the agency isn’t being pulled into anything within the current news cycle. Once I’m in the office, I do a deeper dive to determine what happened overnight within the county. If things are quiet on that front I check the news of the morning around the market and region to see if we can expect any localized queries to come our way. The media calls and texts start rolling in around 8:30 or so as reporters are working on their pitches for the morning editorial meetings. Mid-morning is the time when I get together with our digital comms coordinator to see what’s planned on social for the day and what content is in the works and what I can help gather.
The rest of the day is usually a combination of gathering that content, responding to media queries and pitches from nightside reporters and handling any administrative duties. It’s all a little bit different every day but those are the basic pieces.
The biggest misconception about being a PIO is that anybody can do it.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Turning it off. That’s not easy for me. I would guess most PIOs are better at stepping away than me. It’s tough for me because I enjoy my job. It’s not onerous or laborious. It’s fun. It’s doesn’t help that I don’t really have any hobbies and pull for a team (the Washington Football Team) that hasn’t been very good in three decades. My work is intertwined with my interests because it involves what I’ve followed and wanted to be a part of since I was young. News, information, technology. I’ve geeked out on that since I was 9 years old.
What do you love about your job?
I love getting complex information from various sources and sifting through it all to provide the essentials to an audience. I love to write too. And I love microphones and broadcasting. Mix all those together and that’s what energizes me for hours on a scene. We’re there to provide crucial information to a community in a time of uncertainty, confusion, heartache. That’s where and when key messages are so important. There isn’t a lot that can be digested and understood in those circumstances. I like the pressure of that and serving an audience with assuring and informative messages.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about being a PIO?
The biggest misconception about being a PIO is that anybody can do it. It’s takes a different kind of person to capably fill the PIO role. Remember, PIO jobs are like Hotel California…you can check out but you can never leave. That’s takes a certain someone. Gone are the days of tapping some poor soul who happened to be walking down the wrong hall on the wrong day and telling them, “You’re the PIO now.” That won’t work out well at all. A PIO has to embody the agency. They have to exude and fully embrace agency culture. And they have to know the whole agency to some degree. The depth of knowledge might be an inch deep…but at least it’s there. Being a PIO isn’t for everybody and it can't just be anybody.
Are there any books, podcasts, websites or any other resources you would recommend for the comms pro?
Brad Phillips’ The Media Training Bible is a book every PIO should read and keep on their shelf. And, Brad (@MrMediaTraining) is a must-follow on Twitter. His new podcast, The Speak Good Podcast, is great too. I love what Robert Tornabene (@RobertTornabene) is doing on The PIO Podcast. He should be applauded for his great work.
Warren Weeks (@warren_weeks) drops some incredible crisis communication wisdom on Twitter. Grant Ainsley (@AinsleyInc) is one of the best out there in terms of tips on how to be clear and concise in your messaging and writing.
Some of the best resources out there for PIOs are other PIOs. That’s why I encourage everyone in a PIO role to network with ferocity, follow each other on social media, always talk content and share ideas, and join the National Information Officers Association and the PIO Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
What would you say to anyone else in a leadership role about having a PIO who might not have one?
Be a leader by making your PIO a leader. Have them report directly to you. Give them a seat at the table where decisions are made. Allow them input into decisions and policies. The formula of here…this happened, we decided this, now go write about it and defend it to the public…is not effective.
A PIO should really report to the chief executive of an organization day-to-day just as they report to an incident commander on a scene. It’s right there in the org chart for the Incident Command System. The PIO box comes right off the incident commander box at the top. I think PIOs who are in the right place in their organization are going to serve their organizations – and their leadership – much better.
Adam also runs the website AdamThePIO.com