Don’t Confuse Government PR With Political PR, Especially In A Crisis

Political PR is often about making one person look good, no matter what.

But it was reinforced, at least to me, today that government PR can be something altogether different.

I had the privilege of moderating a session on crisis communication, as part of a special day-long conference for public information officers or “PIOs,” on the invitation of DTE Energy, which sponsored the event on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit. Hundreds of communicators attended the event from government at all levels, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, school districts and utilities.

The session I moderated included representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control, along with a legal reality check from a law professor. Listening to the commitment of these government agencies, including the extensive preparation for crisis and the resources expended on message monitoring to gauge their interaction with the public, was impressive. Fielding questions from the PIOs in the audience shows how thoughtful many of them are about their jobs and their obligations to the public.

It was a reminder that when there is an actual disaster, something with broad and deep impact inside a community, when accurate credible information becomes truly “need to know,” there are professionals who understand their audiences. While government PR may ultimately answer to politicians, those heard from at this event understand that their obligation is to more than voters or the proverbial “audience of one.” They are our sources of information, when it is needed most.