Sunday, May 12, 2019

Regimental Public Affairs Officer

On May 4 and-5 May 2019, I attended training for public affairs officers in the Texas Military Department. The training was presented by public affairs professionals from the news media and from the military. Of necessity, some presenters wore both hats. Of course, the panel discussions and lectures were focused on news reporting for military public affairs. In addition, I picked up good pointers about writing for any market or audience.

The Introduction by LTC David Spanton set the context. “We have three goals,” he said. 
1.    Meet your peers. Make friends. 
2.   Recognition of our work.
3.   Professional development.
The morning sessions were on Crisis Management, Media Relations, and Social Media. In the afternoon, we covered Photo & Video, and Cracking the Awards. On the second day, we were reminded of the fundamental truths in career development. The seminar ended with an awards ceremony to recognize the writers, photographers, and videographers in the Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Air National Guard, and the Texas State Guard.
Texas State Guard Public Affairs
Maritime (left) and Army (right)
The first panel discussion on the first day was about Crisis Communications. The presenters were Bryce Dunbee (Austin Bergstrom International Airport), Natalie Bidnick Andreas (public relations consultant),  Caitlin Rourk (crisis management consultant).

Bryce recommended having a tagline that closes every statement: “As always, safety is our number one priority.”  Natalie said that crisis communication begins with an apology. She also emphasized the need for clear social media policies that apply to everyone from the CEO to interns. Caitlin encouraged us to find case studies of actual events. “Pick a crisis and then wordsmith a statement for it during your monthly drill as an exercise.” Look for bookmarkable case studies in crisis management.

They all insisted that public affairs officers need to reach out early and often to news media.  “Get your buy-in before the crisis…. Make your contacts in times of peace… Become part of the command staff equation. … Know your contacts in your legal affairs department.” And remember that today everyone is on a national stage.

Panel Sessions were held in 
the Audie Murphy Building
Natalie warned us to watch out for scope creep. You will have a client or stakeholder, a commander of some kind, who wants more services, whether that means more of your time or creating a new and better spin to the story. She recommended holding your ground. “You tell them: ‘I am duty bound and this is what I can do.’”  So, how do you push back to a client or a commander? You outline for them the reputational risk and give them a threat analysis. 

Crisis preparation is defining the “so-what” in a story. The numbers do not lie. Metrics speak. Tell the media not only why your organization is out there doing these things, but why your communications directors or spokespersons are saying these things. “We are continuing to investigate.” Tell them when you will have the information they seek.  

Have your speakers, your commanders, be prepared for the next question.  Reporters know that you are prepped for one or two responses. So, they keep asking more questions until they get to the one you are not prepared for.

At the end of the first day, the sixth panel was titled “Cracking the Awards” (SSG Will Reinier, Jordyn Fetter, and MSG Thomas Wheeler presenting). They did not say this, but it is a known clichĂ© (perhaps from Napoleon) that a soldier will do anything for a piece of colored silk. Awards matter for the same reasons that publicity itself matters: recognition is important. So, how do you get recognized? 

Stick to the criteria. Follow the instructions. Look for categories with fewer entrants. It is pretty easy. 
Class Photo: Texas Military Department
Public Affairs Officers Seminar
I found value in their outline for any story. We are writing non-fiction. These are reports to the public. But it is best told as a story. 
Five elements of any story.
1.    Set the scene. Take a wide shot.
2.   Introduce the character. Root for or against.
3.   Find the conflict. Find the challenge.
4.   Conflict changes the character.
5.   Resolution.

Similarly, the first panel of the second day on Career Management (LTC David Spanton, MAJ Jose Perez) underscored truths that apply to all professions. Look for opportunities in education, training, promotions, and assignment. Follow up on continuing education whether that is the completion of certifications or accreditations or maintaining your society memberships.  


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