October Program Recap – The Press Secretaries Club: The Evolution of Government PR
Article by Shavonne McAndrew, Public Information Specialist, Community & Media Relations, Leon County Government (FPRA member since 2020)
Panelists: Alia Faraj-Johnson, Edie Ousley and Ryan Banfill
Moderator: Carla Brown Lucas
Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.
- Successful government spokespeople know who they are talking to and frame their stories to meet their audience’s interests.
- A key to being a great public communicator is in consistent application of a straightforward skill: Stay up-to-date on current events.
- Be a good dance partner. All three speakers referenced building relationships to anticipate journalists’ needs and align the way a message presented to the public.
On Thursday, October 21, three former government PR professionals shared their expertise and insight with the FPRA Capital Chapter. Moderated by Carla Brown Lucas, the distinguished panel included Alia Faraj-Johnson, Edie Ousley and Ryan Banfill.
With experience spanning the last three decades, this talented group of spokespeople shared best practices in government information. Carla Brown Lucas opened the conversation by asking Faraj-Johnson and Banfill:
How does being a former journalist help with being a public spokesperson?
Having a career as a journalist before moving to the public sector, both Faraj-Johnson and Banfill described how understanding what a reporter needs was a key to their success. By understanding the building blocks of a story, and the reasoning behind a journalist’s questions, these two communicators leveraged what they knew the media needed with their messages.
This understanding of a journalist’s work helped them develop relationships, which could be essential in future stories. Faraj-Johnson stated it’s easier to work with a journalist to correct a story before it is published, rather than after it’s written. Knowing what reporters are working on and building relationships is key to creating stories that interest the media and protect the organization.
Have you seen the role of government public information change?
Ousley was the first to answer with a concise statement: Strategic messaging. Successful campaigns tell a compelling story from start to finish. She now sees an even greater need to position an organization’s message within even the smallest communication – even a tweet can be picked up by national outlets. Whether a triumph or a cautionary tale, every message can become a much larger, story-telling moment.
Banfill agreed, stating that public communicators can use their media resources to amplify a message. Spokespeople now can be even more creative, breaking their story into sections that their audience is most interested in.
What are the key skills that someone who’s interested in being a government public information officer needs?
Though simple in concept, Ousley suggested that staying up-to-date on current events is essential to being a great government storyteller. Knowing how a message intertwines with the greater narrative your audience is experiencing can be a powerful tool.
For Faraj-Johnson, patience, collaboration and diplomacy are important skills for spokespeople. PR professionals know the value of a relationship. Having the skills to build relationships with reporters and strategic partners can give a campaign a leg up on its competition. Faraj-Johnson even stated that building relationships with fellow spokespeople across the aisle was important to her, as her colleagues from the other side of an issue would sometimes give her heads-up on when a big announcement would drop.
Thank you to Alia Faraj-Johnson, Edie Ousley and Ryan Banfill for sharing their knowledge with us as government spokespeople. The Capital Chapter is very grateful to them for taking the time to speak with us and answer our questions.