It’s more important than ever that law enforcement leadership gives significant thought - and action - when it comes to engaging a qualified and experienced communication strategist. These are the experts that will be there to lead the department through the best and worst of times. Guest contributor Judy Pal explains why you should be looking further than dealing with what’s happening right now, and crucially, how to find the right person to be your key adviser.
Here are ten tips to consider when hiring a communications strategist. They are a unique and rare breed, so if you get a good one, they should be remunerated accordingly.
- Your comms strategist should have both education and experience in strategic communications, marketing, public relations and/or journalism. Don’t worry so much about having to know about policing or the whims of your local media – you know about policing; you need them to know about communication.
- This person will be a close confidant. Choose someone you believe you can build a trusting relationship with and allow them to speak truth to power behind closed doors. This also means having your strategist at the same level as your legal counsel. Access equals influence – let others know your comms person is a trusted advisor and put them in the right place in your organizational chart – reporting directly to you.
- Hiring a former reporter may not work. They are taught to tell stories, not to manage a brand, advise on internal communications, or how best to communicate with elected officials to reach your goals.
- While there is much more to strategic communication than ‘media’, hiring a former reporter may work if they are willing to continue to learn and use their insights from their years in journalism to improve how you communicate.
- Look for someone who is bold in presenting ideas that are out of your comfort zone. A communication strategist thinks with their right-brain, you likely think with your left-brain. Combining the two makes for a strong team.
- Ensure the person you hire understands their role on the team, and that your team understands the communicator’s need for unfiltered information. As a boss, you may have to act as the ‘velvet hammer’ a few times until that trust is earned throughout the organization.
- Your advisor must be publicly oriented, politically astute, a trend-watcher, media consumer, understand new media, and have strong networking capabilities.
- Look for someone who is prescient: Someone who can predict how an incident will be seen through various lenses so you can take the appropriate proactive or reactive action.
- When conducting your search, look for a communication professional who provides you with information in a number of ways. Their job is to determine how you want and process information and communicate with your succinctly and honestly in a way you, the CEO, prefers it.
- And finally, find someone who is humble and puts the department and your community first. Integrity counts.
Where will you find this unicorn? Look outside of local media or your department. Look to national and international organizations such as the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the private sector, and colleges that offer degree programs in public relations and communication.
A true strategic communications advisor works closely with the CEO to help build strong ties across one’s community. Their job is to provide counsel and actions that:
- Contributes to reputation management,
- Identifies opportunities and risks to that reputation and brand,
- Helps identify and target stakeholders and audiences,
- Cultivates and measures relationships with various audiences,
- Influences management’s behavior; and
- Identifies reputational measures and aligns them with your department’s goals.
A strong advisor works to increase trust within a community, helps an agency demonstrate transparency, enhances satisfaction of all relevant stakeholders (including employees) and provides avenues for community involvement. These four objectives lead to stronger partnerships with law enforcement and a strengthened commitment to like-minded goals and community advocacy. In short, a great communicator works to create a community of advocates who will amplify and support your messaging and brand which in turn will help keep your cops safe, and your community safer.
With more than 30 years’ experience, Judy Pal has served in management positions for police, private sector and the professional sports and entertainment industry in both Canada and the U.S. Judy runs 10-8 Communications. Listen to Judy's PIO Podcast episode here.