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Public Affairs: Connecting Government to its People

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Posted At: February 25, 2013 9:42 P.M.
by Martina Kaiwi

Army

Photo courtesy of Flickr user The U.S. Army.

Did you ever dream of working for the government as a child? This is not the case for many of America’s youth. We dream of becoming actors, athletes and artists – a life catered to fame and glamour.

As a child, Daniel O’Boyle, chief media relations specialist of U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM), imagined he would work as a government communicator.

“I always knew that I wanted to work for the government,” O’Boyle said. “As public affairs practitioners, we are charged with the responsibly to communicate on behalf of our government. How cool is that?”

After 34 years, O’Boyle is still working for the government. He has held multiple positions as a public affairs specialist for many of Redstone Arsenal’s departments and agencies.

“I enjoy being a government communicator because our work matters,” O’Boyle said. “My target audience is not just government employees, but their families and the communities that they live in.”

O’Boyle and Sofia Bledsoe, a public affairs officer for Program Executive Office Aviation, provide insight on public affairs practices.

So, what does a government communicator do?
“To me, a government communicator must convey governmental messages to the American people and also illustrate the importance of our nation’s freedoms,” O’Boyle said.

“Public affairs fulfills the Army’s obligation to keep the American people and the Army informed and helps to establish the conditions that lead to confidence in America’s Army and its readiness to conduct full-spectrum operations,” O’Boyle said. “Every member of the Army contributes to effective PA.”

Public affairs practitioners link the government to its people. Government communicators have the power to change lives by distributing information about government assistance programs, issuing public service announcements and warning the public of hazardous products or services.

However, not all government communication is in service of the public. Many public affairs practitioners are responsible for internal communications that help other government communicators and employees perform to the best of their abilities.

What communication tools do government communicators use?
“Soldiers are the most credible and influential spokespersons that the Army has,” O’Boyle said. “As such, they should be encouraged to communicate with the public by using all communication mediums.”

O’Boyle also said that we cannot solely rely on technology to communicate, and that face-to-face communication is always best when possible.

“I would have to say that we best communicate to our external publics through our paper, The Redstone Rocket,” O’Boyle said. “We write about all sorts of topics to communicate what is happening in and around Redstone Arsenal.”

“When communicating to internal publics, email is crucial,” O’Boyle said. “It is very necessary that we all are on the same page and broadcast the same message.”

Government employees are linked together through ‘the global,’ a database that holds every government employee’s title and contact information. Many government employees communicate via AKO (Army Knowledge Online) accounts that allow them to send instant messages at work without cluttering their email.

“We also use our social media sites to keep our audience up to date and post Redstone Rocket articles in case they did not get a chance to pick up the actual paper,” O’Boyle said.

In contrast to other PR entities, social media plays a very small role in government communications. Many websites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, are restricted due to possible security breaches.

As PR professionals, we are expected to stay up to date with new trends that will help us better communicate with our target audiences. But for government communications, there is always a risk of sharing too much information without going through the proper chain of command.

What are the benefits of working in government communications?
“I think responses to this question are unique to each individual in this case,” Bledsoe said. “In my case, it is a privilege to be working with and supporting our great men and women in uniform every day. They are the heart of the Army and the reason why you and I enjoy our freedom every day. Their service is entirely selfless, and the sacrifices that they and their families endure and overcome are something that I, as a Department of Army civilian, can only repay by doing whatever I can to support them.”

Bledsoe also said it is important to tell the Army’s story.

“The primary benefit is to be able to instantaneously have an impact on national and international actions that effect an entire population,” O’Boyle said.

It is no surprise that government communicators will impact a larger audience, as every U.S. citizen becomes your target public. Practitioners need to be knowledgeable and respectful of their audience that is made up of a variety of different cultures, ages, social and economical classes, races and genders.

What is good advice for young PR professionals interested in public affairs?
“Just know how to write and you will be very successful,” O’Boyle said. “If you know how to write well, you will be valuable any place you go.”

When writing on behalf of the government, it is difficult to master proper jargon and acronyms. The reality is that government communicators must use these acronyms, or nicknames, to remember different organizations, departments and agencies. For example, it is much easier to say AMRDEC, pronounced A-M-R-deck, than The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center.

“Don’t be scared if you hear an acronym and don’t know what it means,” O’Boyle said. “The best thing to do is just ask. And I bet you will even find a few people who don’t know what it stands for.“

Bledsoe advised that public affairs practitioners need to be well-rounded. “It is not the brightest they choose but who will fit the role the best. It is very much about character, how well you work with different people, and how you work to solve problems,” she said.

“Public affairs is a camaraderie found nowhere else and a passion that has instilled itself in me,” Bledsoe said.

For those who are equally passionate about public affairs you can find more information regarding careers as government communicators by visiting the Army Public Affairs website. There, you will find links with information about internships, jobs and Frequently Asked Questions.

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