Today, public information officers (PIOs) are an integral part of many organizations and act as a medium between an organization and the community. However, the area of PIOs’ influence extends far beyond the local community, as they can affect the organization’s image nationally and even globally. One of the reasons for such an extensive influence of PIOs is the process of mediatization, which makes companies more exposed and vulnerable to the attention of media outlets. Moreover, new technologies, including social media, allow for the faster spread of information. In these circumstances, the role of PIOs becomes crucial to a wide variety of businesses, as they can promote effective communication with the media and the public, therefore influencing the perception of the company. This paper aims to discuss the roles and responsibilities of public information officers in today’s world, as well as to outline the challenges that mediatization and other trends in communication pose for PIOs.
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Public Information Officers
Role and Function
A public information officer (PIO) is responsible for developing and maintaining a positive public image of his or her organization (Locsin). PIOs are also known as public relations managers and public affairs specialists, as they mediate the communication between an organization and the public (Locsin). The primary focus of PIOs is to communicate a positive organizational image to the media, so that it can reach the public via traditional media outlets, such as the news and television, or social media platforms. Hence, PIOs perform three main functions.
First of all, they create policies and plans that reflect the goals of the organization with regards to public image and media communication (Ristino et al. 55). For instance, media policy of an organization reflects the overall procedures for dealing with various media personnel and executives. Such policies are usually designed to ensure that all personnel adheres to the same procedures in communicating with the media, as well as to ensure the protection of employees’ and clients’ rights to privacy and the transparency of all information provided.
Secondly, PIOs function as the primary point of contact for all media executives and personnel, including journalists, reporters, and photographers. PIOs are responsible for providing media workers with necessary information and assistance, especially when they are on site (Ledingham and Bruning 194). For example, most media policies stipulate that media personnel should be accompanied by an appropriate employee at all times during their visits to the organization. This is crucial to ensure that no unwanted media attention is given to employees or customers and that the media receive only the appropriate data. As PIOs are best equipped to respond to all situations involving the media, they are usually the ones to accompany media workers on site and to respond to all inquiries from the media executives.
Lastly, PIOs are responsible for collecting and reporting information to the media and the community (Ledingham and Bruning 194). This includes managing and conducting press conferences and interviews, as well as providing press releases and reports. It is the duty of a PIO to provide transparent and comprehensive information about the institution, incidents, and events, as well as to ensure that all information serves to uphold the positive image of the institution. For instance, in case of an emergency, PIOs working in the public sector usually release reports and information about the participation of the organization in relief efforts. On the other hand, if there were a legal action against the company, it would be the PIO’s duty to deliver appropriate information about the investigation and results, which shows the organization’s effort to promote transparency and integrity, as well as to ensure that such cases are avoided in the future.
Overall, the PIO performs essential functions that ensure efficient communication with the media and the public and maintain positive reputation of the organization. Thus, PIOs are equally crucial to public and private organizations, as in both cases the target audience is largely influenced by the media.
Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
As indicated by Locsin, most companies require PIOs to possess a formal degree in communications or public relations, as it creates the necessary knowledge base for their further work. For instance, a thorough understanding of conflict management strategies enables PIOs to resolve disputes between the organization and the media. Knowledge of marketing strategies and methods, on the other hand, can help a PIO to create successful and efficient reports and press releases. However, theoretical knowledge must also be supplemented by experience. Few recent graduates can navigate PIO’s job responsibilities and duties as efficiently as experienced workers.
This is partly because a successful PIO has extensive knowledge of the organization that he or she works in, as well as of its values and goals, which allows him or her to make strategic decisions in communicating with the media and the public. Moreover, in countries with large and diverse populations, such as the United States, an efficient PIO should have experience of communicating with people from different backgrounds and communities: as noted by Motschall and Cao, serving variable audiences is part of the PIO’s duties, which requires additional training and expertise (177). In the United States, PIOs can also obtain official certification from the Public Relations Society of America; the process includes assessment of the applicant’s experience in public relations and passing an exam (Locsin).
Professional training and experience allow PIOs to build a distinctive set of skills that aid them in their work. For example, interpersonal skills are crucial as they are the foundation of the person’s success in the PIO role. Well-developed interpersonal skills allow PIOs to communicate with a wide variety of subjects from different audiences and to resolve any issues or conflicts efficiently. Secondly, PIOs have to possess problem-solving skills, which are essential to solving complex tasks and disputes both within the organization and externally. Organizational skills are also a crucial part of a PIO’s profile, as they help to create and implement effective policies and regulations to oversee the relationship between other employees and the media personnel. Moreover, organizational skills are essential to initiate and manage various events and conferences, which is also part of a PIO’s duties. Finally, all employees in public relations, including PIOs, must have a strong command of language, both in their speech and in writing. For international organizations, it is important that a PIO can speak a variety of different languages to ensure efficient communication.
Current and Future Challenges
Mediatization was one of the main development trends that affected organizations in the late twentieth century, and it continues to be relevant now. According to Kunelius and Reunanen, the term “mediatization” refers to “a process in which the influence of the “media” (i.e. media as institutions or sometimes as technologies) increases in other institutions (or spheres) of society and in everyday-life” (6). In the context of business and public organizations, the process of mediatization has lead to the increasing involvement of media in the affairs of most companies. Today, the media has a significant capacity to influence organizational image and reputation, which poses an important concern for public relations. As shown in a study by Kunelius and Reunanen, increased media attention can have an influence on decision-making processes in various organizations (Kunelius and Reunanen 11).
This notion is even more profound in public institutions. The process of mediatization has led to the rise of news logic as opposed to media logic, which impacted the genre and style of information presented in the media today (Thorbjornsrud et al. 7). The news logic relies mainly on comprehensive and timely data, which creates new requirements for organizations in terms of information release. Providing incomplete or delayed information can affect the reputation of the institution and damage its popularity among the public. For PIOs, the shift implies a significant change in the communication with the media. The challenge is to provide transparent and actual information that leaves no opportunity for dubious interpretation and thus cannot be used against the organization.
The increasing scope of social media has also been among the primary trends of the beginning of the twentieth century. Social media platforms enhance the scope of PIOs’ work by providing new pathways of communication with the public (Hughes and Palen 2). According to numerous studies, more and more people rely on social media platforms for current news and information. For instance, social media plays a vital role in the times of crisis. A study by Dailey and Starbird found that both people and organizations used a wide range of social media platforms, including Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook, to share and obtain information following the 2014 Oso Landslide (1280). Moreover, social media is also widely used by people all over the globe to discuss current affairs. A study by Hagen et al. showed that in the context of Zika virus outbreak, 25% of Zika-related posts on Twitter expressed criticism of the U.S. Congress’ slow legislative response to the incident, whereas 19% of posts discussed the health impact of the virus and prevention measures (14).
Therefore, with the current scope and influence of social media, it can pose a significant threat to the image of organizations if any compromising or ambiguous information is released. On the other hand, social media platforms also open a number of opportunities for marketing and branding. For example, cooperation with social media influencers can help organizations to promote products or services. Pang et al. state that “A strong relationship with SMIs can help organizations maximize positive media coverage and ultimately create stronger public presence” (58). Thus, social media has become an integral part of the PIO’s work in the time of mediatization. In order to minimize the negative influence of social media and promote a strong online image of the organization, PIOs should seek to exhibit expertise and knowledge, demonstrate positive work outcomes, and display a promising vision for the future (Luo et al. 189).
As part of the project, an interview with an IPO of a non-profit organization was conducted to obtain more insight into the subject. Overall, the information obtained from the interview corresponded the research findings. For instance, the interviewee agreed that the increased involvement of the media in business affairs had impacted the work of PIOs in the last decade. The subject also confirmed that the current scope of social media makes it an essential tool for public communication. One of the most important aspects of the interview, however, was a discussion of barriers to communication that present yet another challenge to the work of PIOs.
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First of all, the subject stated that the differences in goals and values of journalists and PIOs pose a significant challenge to communication with the media. Indeed, Avery et al. argue that the history of a strained relationship between journalists and PIOs, as well as the differences in their values and perception, creates fundamental challenges in dealing with the media (329). Moreover, the interviewee discussed other barriers to effective communication with the public, such as the low level of awareness about the organization and lack of interest in its affairs. Both variables are addressed in the study by Avery et al.; the researchers found that PIOs identify lack of interest and awareness as some of the crucial gaps affecting the distribution of information to the public. All in all, the interview provided another perspective on the work of PIOs and the challenges ahead of them.
Conclusion: The Work of PIOs and the Franciscan Tradition
The work and role of PIOs are linked to the Franciscan Tradition in two separate ways. First of all, the work of PIOs correlates with Franciscan values. For instance, integrity is among the core principles of the Franciscan Tradition. On the other hand, successful PIOs are required to provide transparent and honest information to promote better public awareness, as well as to maintain a positive image of their organizations. Integrity is thus one of the core values that PIOs should adhere to in their work. Secondly, the Franciscan Tradition emphasizes the importance of public service. Similarly, the job of PIOs implies serving the public, including both local and global communities, by providing important information, organizing events, and promoting their organization.
Another aspect of the PIOs’ work that is connected to the Franciscan Tradition is communication. By acting as a medium between organizations, the media, and the public, PIOs work to strengthen the community and to promote effective communication. The Franciscan Tradition also puts great emphasis on building trust and connection within the community.
Overall, this project help to develop a deeper understanding of the PIOs’ role and the challenges they face due to mediatization. The 21st century is an age of connectivity, which creates both concerns and opportunities for PIOs. For instance, further development of communication channels, as well as increasing mediatization, will remain among the key concerns for PIOs. However, as more and more organizations require PIOs to maintain a positive reputation, the position will not lose its relevance in the upcoming decades, instead becoming an integral part of all companies who seek to maintain their image and reputation.
Introduction: Hello, my name is (*) and I would like to ask you a few questions about the role and duties of the Public Information Officer. To preserve confidentiality, none of your identifying information will be included in the research project.
What is the role of Public Information Officer in Your Organization?
Note: Knowing the role of the PIO in the respondent’s organization would help to analyze the answers.
Answer: In my company, an IPO is responsible for transferring important information to the public and maintaining an excellent image of the organization.
What are the main challenges faced by PIOs in communicating with the news media?
Note: Mediatization is among the main notions explored in the projects. According to Thorbjornsrud et al., mediatization caused a shift in the logic of news media, which poses a significant challenge to PIOs (7).
Answer: First of all, dealing with the press puts tremendous pressure on the individual, which might impair the quality of communication. It is also important to understand that the media may distort the provided information if it is somewhat ambiguous, so adhering to the planned speech and answers is crucial.
How do the differences between journalists and PIOs affect the communication with the news media?
Note: According to Avery et al., one of the most significant challenges in communicating with the news media is the strained relationship between journalists and PIOs, as well as the differences in values and perception (329). The answer to this question will help to understand if this is true.
Answer: Journalists and PIOs pursue different goals in their work. While PIOs work to maintain the organization’s image, journalists are always looking for captivating stories to tell. This creates a conflict of interests and puts additional pressure on PIOs to plan all media encounters and reports carefully so as to avoid misunderstanding. Some journalists also have different values than we do. For example, they could try to approach staff or clients for details; this impairs the protection of rights to privacy, which is among our top priorities in working with the media.
Question: How has the work of PIOs changed in the last decade?
Note: According to research, mediatization made public relations more important and challenging than ever before, so I would like to know if this is correct.
Answer: Due to the increased number of means by which information is spread, such as the Internet and television, the public gained improved access to knowledge. Therefore, the work of PIOs became important and relevant to a wider range of organizations.
Question: In your opinion, what is the current role of social media in public communication?
Note: Dailey and Starbird state that in the recent years, social media has become one of the essential communication channels (1277). I want to know if the respondent sees the same trend.
Answer: The scope and range of social media platforms available are enormous, which allows them to fulfill the communications needs of large communities.
What kind of organizations should consider using social media more effectively?
Note: This question was not covered in the literary review, but is nonetheless important to understand.
Answer: In my opinion, all organizations would benefit from using social media platforms.
How can a PIO help the organization to use social media platforms efficiently?
Note: The specific duties of PIOs with regards to social media management were not addressed in the research, which is why I want to discuss this with the respondent.
Answer: First, a PIO can plan and manage the content and information to be released. Secondly, a PIO can assess the communication and responses from the public to address them effectively. Finally, a PIO can monitor the organization’s online image and undertake actions to correct it, if necessary.
What do you believe are the main barriers to effective communication with the general public?
Note: Here, I want to determine if the respondent’s thoughts correlate with the findings of Avery et al.
Answer: Low level of public awareness about the organization could be a barrier, as people may misinterpret the messages. Furthermore, lack of general interest and involvement of the public can also affect the communication.
What role does a PIO play in press conferences in your organization?
Note: PIOs are normally among the main public relations workers and are therefore tasked with organizing or handling press conferences. However, this might not be the same in all organizations.
Answer: My organization rarely holds press conferences; however, when it does, a PIO is responsible for organizing and managing the event, as well as for supplying the respondents with scripts and information.
In what ways do you think the role of PIOs will develop in the next few decades?
Note: Locsin states that the demand for PIOs, as well as the scope of their work, will continue to increase in the future. Nevertheless, the respondent might have a different vision.
Answer: In my opinion, the role of PIOs has already reached its full potential, so I don’t think it will develop any further. However, the demand for PIOs might still increase.
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