Commensurate with the explosion of the information age, the role of communications professionals in government – the PIO function, to boil it down to basics – has seen a rapid expansion during the past 25 years. Today, the job is so much more than just writing press releases and talking to reporters.
But, for the old horses that galloped into the job on day one with a typewriter on their desk (Google it, kids), is there any gas left in the tank?
For those of us that had the gig for more than four presidents, or longer, it is a virtual certainty that we didn’t head out from college with this career in mind. Many of us started out in journalism or public relations and, by happenstance, wound up in government. And thanks be to your deity of choice that we did because we also wound up on the front lines of the technological revolution in information and communications. That, in turn, became a tidal wave of innovation in new and different ways to reach the public that were unheard of in the days when Starbuck referred to a family name on Battlestar Galactica (the original one, with Ben Cartwright).
Some refer to it as the difference between digital natives (many of our kids never knew a time when technology wasn’t in their lives) and digital immigrants, (those of us that remember Pong as breakthrough technology) who had to learn the rest as it came rushing towards us.
It has been, and will continue to be, a daily challenge to keep up with it all, but there may never again be a more exciting time to be a government communications professional.
So, particularly if you’re a digital immigrant, on the back nine of your career, nowhere near the clubhouse and maybe in the rough, there are some dos and don’ts that may help you keep up.
- DO surround yourself with the best and the brightest at every opportunity. Hire digital natives. If you’ve got a teenager, pay attention to what they do and how they do it.
- DO seek out professional associations and conferences that can enhance your skill set and give you a network of like-minded colleagues to consult. However, do your research into the organization. Be sure the conference is going to be productive and not an excuse for its members to get out of town.
- DO resolve that the best years of your career are still ahead of you, especially if you’re, say, within five or so years of retirement. That is a golden opportunity to determine what kind of time you have to accomplish extraordinary things, if you put your mind to it.
- DO follow people on the site formerly known as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other social media du jour. There’s nothing like engagement to help you master the task at hand.
- DO browse electronic stores. Yep, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. In this case, simply looking around at emerging tech for sale at the consumer level can contribute to your knowledge base. It is what your audience will be using to receive your message.
- DON’T stop learning. Get to know YouTube, TikTok, Vimeo and the like for the exponentially-growing wealth of videos that can explain anything to you. Subscribe to podcasts and online magazines and news aggregators that cater to your profession and keep you ‘in the know.’
- DON’T stop trying to get better. In fact, why don’t you try to be the very best there is at what you do? Why not? It’s not so much about the goal as the journey.
- DON’T stop networking. People that do what you do are out there and are going through the same growing pains that you are experiencing. Compare notes, watch each other’s backs and up each other’s game.
- DON’T stop thinking about tomorrow. (Sorry).
There is absolutely no reason that old horses can’t learn new tech. And, to continue the excruciating equine metaphors, you can lead an old horse to water, but you can’t make him think.
That part is up to the horse.
By Tom Bryson, Vice President & Public Sector Practice Leader