Understand the new role of PIOs

by David Harris on August 15, 2011

Public information officers used to deal with information–it’s right in their name. But now they need to think differently. PIOs are now in the business of relationship management. That’s easy to say but it takes a little more unpacking to understand what it means.

Your primary job is to develop relationships with all your important stakeholders. It is those relationships that reflect how your institutions fit into wider society and ultimately how they find a reason for existing. So where does the information come in? It moves to having the status of a tool you use to help build and sustain those relationships.

The relationships you must look after all require slightly different approaches but, fortunately, information can be used in many different ways.

If you think of your fundamental job as getting information out, you are only doing a fraction of what you might achieve. Information distribution is short term but relationships are long term. Oftentimes, as I have written elsewhere, the long term choice might mean sacrificing information distribution in the short term. And each time that happens it is about building reputation, trust, and integrity with your stakeholders.

From the new perspective of relationship management, we can start to see differences in how we use information. For one, we ought to be taking in a lot more information instead of being a one-way channel. Second, the approaches you use are different, sometimes subtly, but different nonetheless.

In the past how did you relate to members of the public who have an interest in your institution? You might have relied on general coverage in the media if you are like most PIO offices. But now you can reach people directly without having to go through the news production intermediaries. You can be publishing information yourself directly for consumers of that information. Furthermore, you can trivially add a channel for them to talk back to you. But this doesn’t mean just putting your press releases online for the whole world to see. It’s a start but it’s not enough.

You ought to be providing information in a format that is most useful to your audiences and a press release is not a very user friendly format if you’re not press. Sometimes repackaging the content can be enough but it usually takes some rewriting to get a press release into a form suitable for consumption by a non-press audience. I argue that it’s worth the time.

One reason why it is worth the time is that you give the appearance of caring about your audiences. It doesn’t look like you just slapped up some information for press and said, “OK, I suppose you can take a look also.” Your audiences will feel better served when the format of information meets their expectations and needs. Then you are making a step toward building a better relationship with those audiences as you have engendered some respect and trust.

Almost any communications goals you have, or any institutional goal you have that reaches outside the institution, requires good relationships with your stakeholders. As a communications office you don’t have every tool at your disposal but information is the most important anyway. More than any other arm of your institution, you have the ability to build those relationships with stakeholders.

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  • Spike Kalashnikov

    So right

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