Journalists it is said need rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability. Press officers just need to read this.
If you can keep your head when all around you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise.
You’ll be a Press Officer my son.
I’m convinced that Rudyard Kipling wrote the opening lines of that most famous poem after spending a week in a council press office.
I’ve got 13 years experience of working in (or managing) an in-house press team of some kind. So I feel I’m (only) just about qualified to comment.
I’m not talking Public Relations, I'm talking about good old fashioned Press Officers here. In-house, fire-fighting, crisis averting, blamed for everything, double-shifting, on-calling, dogsbodies.
It’s one of those jobs most people think they can do, but in my experience very few are actually any good at. By good I mean they can please people on all sides of the job. People with big egos and tight deadlines. The boss, the reporter, your colleagues and indirectly, the public.
It’s not just about good copywriting (but boy that helps) and it certainly isn’t about being super organised (we have systems for that). For me, it’s 90% personality and attitude. To be a great press officer you need to be wise beyond your years, positive, have strength of character, know and trust your journalists, have sound judgement, honesty, integrity, a sense of humour, and very very broad shoulders.
Most of all, you need to be willing to take the blame.
That shit policy that no one ever thought would see the light of day? Well it did, and it’s getting hammered all over the front pages. Yep – your fault for not getting the Editor on-side. Unhappy residents campaigning against service closures? That’s your fault too.
But with the blame comes the honour of doing the job well. You might not be saving actual lives or facing danger – but you do get to play a big part in giving people accurate information at the most crucial times. From flooding to fires, from snow to pot holes. From school closures to public health scares, from MRSA to crime scenes. It’s a never ending job of long hours and often long nights. If the emergecy services are awake, and the media is awake, then so are you. And it’s a great thing to be part of.
If you can keep your wits about you, you’ll be a Press Officer my son.
Nicola Davies works in public relations. She also blogs here.