Infrastructure is a vital part of any community, so managing the comms needs a wide skillset that speaks to multiple stakeholders and other agencies. Wayne Larson explains the work he does and what he's looking for in a new team member at the North Texas Municipal District.
Give us an overview of your role and what it entails on a daily basis
I direct a a team of dedicated professionals to help tell the story of the importance of water, wastewater and solid waste services. We use a variety of integrated marketing communication tools and techniques. This includes social media, video, web, e-communications, public affairs and publicity.
Tell us about the role you are hiring for and what you're looking for in a new hire
We need a multi-media specialist. This leader would help place our brand and messages in various social media platforms with images and photos as MMJ. The position calls for a creative and engaging personality and focal lens to tell stories of capital improvement projects, people, and programs that help deliver safe drinking water, important wastewater services and solid waste collection to more than 2M people in 10 counties across 2,200 square miles in North Texas.
What do you love about about your job?
The freedom to be creative and tell stories within a corporate culture that embraces and celebrates professionalism and those who demonstrate that they genuinely care about their craft.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Time and capacity. With such a large service area and working with 80 different communities, there are many requests. Having a dedicated professional join our team will empower us to be more impactful with our communication efforts.
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 municipal PIO for 30 years I enjoyed working on campaigns and projects that made a difference in the quality of life for those who lived in the communities I served. The same is true as NTMWD as we work to provide essential services that maintain safety and a standard of living that is essential.
What is it about communications, media or crisis comms that interests you so much?
The energy and excitement of deadlines and being able to have a creative influence on the way in which the media and social media tells our story. Being able to develop creative assets of images, video and speaking points that aid in the communications of our brand and people within the framework of the stories.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about being a PIO?
That it is always about police and fire professions. There are so many PIOs who work for utilities, city halls, and other government authorities. PIOs play a significant role in controlling misinformation and are essential to framing the message of their organization.
One piece of advice for those wanting to start a career as a Public Information Officer or comms professional
Get training. There are many workshops, conferences and networking opportunities locally, regionally and nationally. The associations and groups for communication professionals listed by PIO ToolKit are great opportunities. FEMA also has super programs for public affairs, emergency planning and crisis communications. Texas Christina University's Certified Public Communicator Program is a great activity for PIOs to network within a think-tank of fellow PIOs and strong communicators.
What's your top tip or piece of advice regarding social media engagement in public safety?
Be engaged and authentic. Talk with a human voice, not corporate voice. Be active as content is king. Participate in conversations and posts that have nothing to do with your goals to be seen as being "social." Have fun and do not be afraid to use tasteful/safe humor in your posts. Don't be fearful of the influencers and those that disagree - engaging them to a certain point can pay dividends in respectful conversations that others will see and learn to accept you in their groups.
What are your favorite tools you use to do your job more effectively?
Video production with my iPhone and social media. Audiences have a short attention span and limited interests. Having simple but significant content is critical. Being able to tell a story that is visually appealing and interesting will help you position your brand and messaging.
Are there any books, podcasts or any other resources you would recommend for the comms pro?
The book Invincible Brand gives PIO the pillars to protect their organization's image. There is also a podcast with great guests who offer more insight.
What would you say to anyone in a leadership role about having a PIO who might not have one?
Get one...yesterday. If you don't tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you. Your story will be shared in ways you didn't intend it to be shared, misinformation will spawn and criticism will grow. Have a PIO or spokesperson who has the freedom to speak and share information in real time with limited filters and approval processes. Be timely and be ready with a PIO who is polished, poised and professional with messaging in works, images and creative content.