Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Zen and the art of the PIO

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."
That's some deep stuff. Very deep. It actually is the philosophy of Shoshin in Zen Buddhism, and if you think about it, it makes total sense.
You might want to mediate on this post for a while.
In my years of training public information officers, I have run into many different levels of experience. At one end of the spectrum, there are  people are quite literally straight out of college in their first professional position taking on their first public information job. In their minds, where do they even begin? Is it more important to get to know the organization they work for or the media who cover their beat? Do they need to build - or even rebuild - a brand new set of protocols and image identity for their organization, or is it better to learn how things have always been done to see what has worked in the past?

OK, keep your cool, kid
On the other side of the spectrum are the extremely seasoned PIOs who are being sent to the class just to get their certificate or maybe the long-time reporter looking to get out of the daily grind and shrinking newsroom while the getting is good. And, I have had my share of students roll their eyes at me mid class, wondering just why they have to endure the torture of dealing with me as one of their instructors. They have seen it all, done it all. Dead bodies. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Locusts. If it's bad, they have experience with it, and nothing I am going to teach them means anything.
I've just about seen it all, pal
There is a deeper meaning of this Shoshin philosophy points a finger squarely at members on both ends of the spectrum and forces them to challenge their thoughts and perceptions.

For the beginner, the real challenge isn't to look at the myriad of different ways that the job can be done. It's how to prioritize what's most important. It's an invitation to seek out the knowledge of more experienced PIOs and look at their plans. It's a need to sit down with members of the local media and ask the simple question, "What makes a good PIO in your eyes?" By conducting this size up of the situation, the number of possible paths narrows, and the ones that lead to success start to become more evident.

A little research can speed your plan along
 The more experienced PIO often finds him or herself set in his or her ways. This is the way it has always been done, so we will do it exactly as we have done before. Those polices, procedures and methods set down in  - say - 1998 are probably wildly different than they would be in 2015. Social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have drastically changed the way news is shared, smartphones have made regular citizens amateur journalists and the pressures that the news media are under in this 24-hour news cycle force us to reexamine the way things are done. We have to look at recent events such as the Amtrak derailment outside of Philadelphia, the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and the failed launch attempt of the SpaceX CRS-7 Mission to get clues on how to best leverage our tools to reach our current audience. 

Sure, it's a profound change in mindset, but it can easily lead us to more quickly bring new PIOs up to speed, and even teach a few more well seasoned PIOs a few new tricks. 

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

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