Kevin Sandell, Executive Officer to the U.S. Army Chief of Public Affairs is based at the Pentagon and has first-hand experience working in the White House and has arguably had some of the most fascinating experiences in comms in his career. Here he gives his advice on how to make the most of this rewarding career.

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

I serve as the Executive Officer to the the U.S. Army's Chief of Public Affairs (Maj. Gen. John Rafferty) and ensure that he has everything he needs to be successful each day. As the Chief of Public Affairs, Maj. Gen. Rafferty is the senior public affairs official in the Army, and also serves as a communication advisor to the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army. As XO, I synchronize his calendar, prepare him for meetings with Army senior leaders, and coordinate with other offices on the Army Staff and major commands.

What do you love about  your job?

It's exciting to serve at the Headquarters, Department of the Army level and help develop communication plans and strategies that affect the entire Army. Our office plans and implements communication strategies to internal and external publics, and it's cool seeing initiatives being rolled out across the service. I interact daily with general officers at the Pentagon and our major commands, and advising my boss, Maj. Gen. Rafferty, on communication efforts and how they affect our stakeholders is an important role as well.

What’s the hardest thing about your job?

My boss is not a public affairs officer by trade, and I must ensure he has the best information available to make the best informed decisions. It can be hard to offer feasible recommendations and counsel, especially regarding events or issues that have national impact.

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

I've served with the U.S. Army's Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (OCPA) for 18 months, and have experienced events like: -Sitting in the East Room of the White House just steps from the President and watching four Vietnam War veterans receive the Medal of Honor. -Writing communications plans for Army-wide initiatives that reached several million people worldwide. -Escorting national media at the Pentagon's 20th anniversary ceremony of the 9/11 attacks. -Seeing firsthand how Army senior leaders develop initiatives and policies that affect the entire service. -Working with many incredible people who are expert communicators and passionate about their role in the Army.

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

Public Affairs is a fascinating field and allows me to experience so many amazing events, interact with people you see on TV or read their articles on the newspaper front page, and tell the Army's stories worldwide. No two days are alike, and it's incredible featuring people and missions that make the Army.

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

PIOs are often relegated to just taking pictures and posting to social media, right? They're the "smoke and mirrors" people of the all seriousness, it's frustrating that senior level directors and commanders don't use PIOs/PAOs for their communication expertise, counsel, and management of the organization's brand and reputation.

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

Network with other PAO/PIOs in your city, field, and other locations constantly. You never know when you will need their assistance in times of crisis, and it helps to have someone to lean on too.

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

-A daily media roll-up of headlines that affect our organization, which helps us forecast which stories may emerge as crises or incidents. -Canva is great for graphics, branding, and creating any product necessary to get the word out. -In previous Army PAO jobs, I used a cheap video editing software to make videos on the fly that we could upload onto social media. -Social media accounts, like Twitter and Facebook, that allow me to see the public sentiment towards the Army and have a conversation with our key publics too.

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

PIOs are essential for managing your organization's brand and reputation, but they can only do so much without top-level resourcing and support. Leaders must emphasize the role of public information/relations and support the PIO with resources, access, training, and trust.

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

I always recommend Doug Levy's "The Communications Golden Hour" because it's packed full of practical tips and resources for PIOs on the front lines. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the PIO Podcast and PIO Toolkit too!

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about, recommend or promote?

Serving as an Army Public Affairs Officer is an incredible experience, and the reason why I joined the Army. We have our hands in nearly everything the Army does, and it's cool to see ideas we develop become standard practice across the Army.

Connect with Kevin on LinkedIn

August 22, 2022
PIO People

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