As part of the Social Media Strategies Summit for First Responders, we're highlighting the amazing speakers taking part in this two day virtual event. The event runs May 9 - 12 and features a wide-range of compelling sessions.

What is your session for SMSS about? Setting Your Agency's Narrative Online (panel discussion)

Give us an overview of your role and what it entails on a daily basis

I serve as the Public Relations Manager/PIO for Fort Collins Police Services. Every day looks a little bit different, which is one of the many reasons I love this job. I'm responsible for sharing stories about day-to-day operations, managing our agency's social media presence, handling media inquiries, writing news releases for major cases, and supporting community outreach/engagement efforts.

I oversee the FCPS Media Response Team, which includes three sworn officers who assist with media needs. This is a collateral assignment for them, and we rotate on-call duties to provide 24/7 PIO accessibility. I lead our agency's Spanish outreach team, which works to remove barriers and build connections with our Spanish-speaking community. I'm also a part of the Larimer County Juvenile Gun Safety Coalition, which has been working for several years to reduce unintended firearm access and prevent gun-related tragedy in Northern Colorado.

What do you love about about your job?

I love working with my cops. Police officers are some of the most compassionate, intelligent, and courageous people I've ever met. Witnessing the way they change lives is incredible, and watching them face the darkest parts of humanity to protect others is inspiring. They're why I come to work every day.  

I'm also passionate about supporting victims and their families. They deserve to have their voices represented, and it's important to me that their stories are portrayed in a way that honors their experiences. There's a balance between storytelling and exploiting, and PIOs have an ethical imperative to ensure that we always keep victims in the equation when we're making communication decisions.   This job isn't always easy, but it's genuinely meaningful.

What’s the hardest thing about your job?

The cumulative stress. Going into this job, I knew there would be "those calls" that stick, but I didn't realize the impact of stress over time. We're naturally wired to ramp up when something big happens, but there isn't an automatic off switch. I've had to learn to be super intentional about coming down after a major incident or even just a particularly busy stretch of work.

We can physically keep running for much longer than we should, so it's crucial to pay attention to mental/emotional energy before those burn out. Fortunately, I work in an agency that invests in wellness, we have an amazing staff psychologist and Peer Support Team available for employees and families, and we have a culture that normalizes asking for help.

What are some of the more memorable events you’ve had to deal with in your role and what lessons did you learn?

Managing social media through a pandemic and civil unrest. I learned a lot about how people react and interact when their sense of safety/stability/certainty is threatened. Generally speaking, managing social media has given me so much insight into the way people process information.

What is it about communications, media or crisis comms that interests you so much?

I'm fascinated by the dynamics of digital communication and behavioral psychology when it comes to individual and collective behavior. I decided mid-pandemic would be a great time to start a master's degree in strategic communication so I could learn more about this.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about being a PIO?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that PIOs just hang out on social media. Digital communication is a huge part of the job, but it's one piece of a larger strategic approach.

One piece of advice for those wanting to start a career as a Public Information Officer or comms professional

Create boundaries and personal wellness practices to mitigate cumulative stress. If you're tasked with being on-call 24/7/365, then develop a team of backups who can help carry that load. It's not healthy to be "on" all the time, so make sure you intentionally and fully power down. Make self-care a part of your daily routine. Take advantage of Peer Support. Hydrate. And always keep good snacks in your desk and go-bag.

What's your top tip or piece of advice regarding social media engagement in public safety?

Remember that you're representing your agency and the law enforcement profession in every interaction. Always take the high road. Don't read the comments before bed or before breakfast.

What are your favorite tools you use to do your job more effectively?

Portable phone charger. WiFi hotspot. A laptop bag with enough pockets to hold cords, phones, snacks, notebook, and other essentials. The pandemic forced me to reconsider my workspace needs, and having a mobile office allows me to work anywhere.

Are there any books, podcasts or any other resources you would recommend for the comms pro?

The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium by Martin Gurri. It's the best book I've read in years, and every communications professional should read it!

What would you say to anyone in a leadership role about having a PIO who might not have one?

It's impossible for one person to do all the things all the time. The most effective leaders surround themselves with subject matter experts who can help them advance the organizational vision. A PIO can develop messaging that resonates, help leaders prep, offer long-game communication strategy, tap into a network of experienced communicators for best practices, and more.

Take a look at the amazing agenda for the Social Media Strategies Summit for First Responders

March 30, 2022
PIO People

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