Wayne Delk is not only prolific, but he's multi-talented, knowing that to be a good PIO there needs to be an understanding of all aspects of communication, not just media relations. As the PIO for Cobb County Police Department, GA for many years, he has honed his skills and made the most of every experience to improve and adapt to an ever changing - and challenging - media landscape.
Give us an overview of your role and what it entails on a daily basis.
I currently supervise our PIO unit. Crafting daily social media messaging that follow a weekly theme established through a collaborative PIO group I helped establish in the Atlanta area back in 2019, we also create multiple video PSA's for publication on our social media sites. I also help craft messaging for media responses from minor incidents up to major media crises. I am responsible for the overall branding of the department and help push messaging to the public through traditional media and social media.
What do you love about your job?
I love the challenges created by different situations we encounter in the law enforcement realm. Never are any two days alike. I thrive in what many consider to be stressful situations. Developing messaging for different scenarios is very satisfying, and helping others develop the skills necessary to do the same is even more satisfying to me.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Occasionally, the hardest thing is getting complete buy-in from those in leadership positions. The well-crafted message that informs the public can sometimes be seen as giving too much information. There are also some instances in which I have had to educate reporters regarding law and even some basic journalistic principles. It shouldn't be a PIO's job to teach new reporters how to do their job (but it does happen from time to time).
What are some of the more memorable events you’ve had to deal with in your role and what lessons did you learn?
As a young PIO back in 2006, I learned just how quickly a fairly innocuous story can turn into a national story with media from all over the nation (and even around the globe) asking for comment and sound. The so-called "Barbie Bandits" committed a bank robbery (actually later discovered to have been a theft, as the teller was in on the staged robbery) that became a far bigger story. I found myself bombarded with media requests for interviews, and my chief at the time sent me in front of every camera that asked. Though it was a huge learning experience for me at the time, I have learned even more as I grew in my understanding of the PIO role today. More recently I have been less accommodating to requests for simple exposure or entertainment, limiting my on camera time for serious incidents or important events the public actually need to be made aware of.
What is it about communications, media or crisis comms that interests you so much?
Having an understanding of the workings of media and how some information can get lost in translation as it travels from the source through the various media outlets and then to the public, that simple understanding of so many variables has made me a consumer of not only media but also the way information is delivered. We many times shoot ourselves in the foot by limiting our responses and being unwilling to deliver content on our own terms. I believe more public agencies could be even better served if they invested in a more polished and open communications policy with the public they serve. And it is what I'm striving for in my own department. It is also what I'm hoping to teach to more PIO's in the future.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about being a PIO?
I think this one has been around for some time: The PIO is only a well-spoken pretty face. So many officers, and the public as well, don't understand the implications of messaging and how important it is. Most heads of agencies are learning and are leaning more on their PIO's though. And I find that rather encouraging.
I believe our ability to communicate to the public directly correlates to the public's trust in our agencies.
One piece of advice for those wanting to start a career as a Public Information Officer or comms professional
Read a lot, and write even more. If you don't write very often and aren't too sure of your grammar, invest in a program like Grammarly to help you with your writing. The vast majority of your communications will be in writing. A good understanding of basic English grammar will go a very long way.
What are your favorite tools you use to do your job more effectively?
I am all over the place here! I am a bit of a gear head when it comes to computers and photographic equipment. I shoot a lot of my own videos and edit them myself. We've got a couple of Canon DSLRs in the office. I use my MacBook Pro at home and an iMac in the office for video editing (Davinci Resolve is my go-to for video editing--it's free). I also use different lighting and lavalier microphones to make some of the videos even more professional. Even without these tools (I know a lot of agencies are still holding those budgets down) others can use their smartphones to shoot videos (we've done that in a pinch, and the videos look good as long as they're stabilized on a tripod). Like I said, I'm all over the place when it comes to tools!
What would you say to anyone in a leadership role about having a PIO who might not have one?
If you're in a leadership role you NEED a PIO. A professional communications expert will not only help execute a brand to the public, but they will also prepare you for the inevitable crisis that looms on the horizon for any and everyone in such positions. A cool, calm professional PIO will get you through those situations with a seeming ease. Don't delay. Get a PIO (or PIO's!) and make sure they have the tools they need to do their job well.
Are there any books, podcasts, websites or any other resources you would recommend for the comms pro?
I have a few books that I would highly recommend not only to comms pros but also to anyone looking to become more astute regarding crisis communications, public speaking, and the media in general. The Politics of Crisis by Eric Kowalczyk; Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo; Voices of a Nation by Folkerts and Teeter (a textbook); and The Smear by Sharyl Attkisson.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about, recommend or promote?
I suppose I can do a little self-promotion. Over the past several years I have been developing a PIO course and have taught taught it twice so far (once in 2019 and again in 2021). It was originally a 3-day course, though it is being revamped into a full weeklong course covering everything from crisis communications to social media to media briefings to press conferences.
I spent a number of years as an elementary school teacher before becoming a police officer in 1997. And even during my career in law enforcement I managed to become an instructor and have been passionate about making sure we are as best trained in as many areas as possible. I believe our ability to communicate to the public directly correlates to the public's trust in our agencies. No matter where your PIO's get training they need to be sure to get as much quality training as possible, and those leaders employing those same PIO's need to rely on them for solid, sound advice in times of calm and times of crisis.
Wayne is a guest contributor to PIO Toolkit. You can read his posts here.
Listen to Wayne on the PIO Podcast
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