Thursday, July 30, 2015


A property of matter by which something that is not moving remains still and something that is moving goes at the same speed and in the same direction until another thing or force affects it.
  • Merrriam-Webster Dictionary
Want to see a neat trick? Watch someone do the whole yank the tablecloth off the set table gimmick, and you will be thoroughly impressed by what you witness.

Be amazed...
No, it's not magic. It's a simple force of physics - inertia. As you can see from the definition above, it basically means that an object at rest wants to remain at rest, and one that's in motion will tend to stay in motion unless another force acts on it - gravity, friction, a large concrete truck. What have you.

In this case, the objects on the table tops want to stay where they are parked, and you can see that even though the table cloth is yanked off one table and onto the other, all of the pieces on both tables more or less stay parked where they started. Impressive. 

The Voyager spacecraft
Inertia is also the other reason why the two Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, will continue pushing out into interstellar space for the foreseeable next few hundred thousand years. Unless the gravity of another star - or the tractor beam of some passing alien spacecraft - stops the robotic explorer, it will continue to push on into the great void on its mission of exploration. 

It's also the force that can be found in many organizations, especially when it comes to public information. For some reason, organizations which have either been burned by a media encounter in the past or just have a bad impression of what reporters do will frequently put little - if any - effort into improving their relations. They will see the media as a necessary evil to 'deal with' when they show up on a scene, and will drag their feet to reply to media requests in a timely fashion. 

Good outreach begets more good coverage
Funny, it's also the same force that organizations with great media relations and outreach policies use to keep pushing themselves forward. Building relationships with reporters. Inviting them to media events. Feeding them story ideas for those slow news days. This inertia will only change if someone who doesn't see the value in this type of outreach grabs the helm and decides to drag it to a halt. 

That's no good.

So, what does this mean to you, the hard-working PIO? It may be up to you to nudge your organization in the right direction to build bridges with reporters in your market. Simple acts like calling the assignment desks of your local outlets to introduce yourself and provide your contact information can go a long way toward initiating those relationships. And, if your organization is already doing the right things, find ways you can help to keep that going. Get training on how to be a better PIO. Learn a new skill like photography that can help reporters. 

Every little bit can make such a huge difference.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Slow or fast?

How will you die, Joan Wilder? Slow, like a snail? Or fast, like a shooting star?

The movie poster from Romancing the Stone
Oh, those movies from the early 1980s. Risky Business. Sixteen Candles. Flashdance. Who could ever forget the hours of entertainment they provided us, or some of the wildest, most decade identifiable clothing styles of all time?

Of course, there was also Romancing the Stone, one of my mom's favorites. In this movie, urban novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Tuner) receives a treasure map in the mail from her recently murdered brother-in-law. Now on a quest to find its meaning, she travels to Columbia where she meets handsome and rugged adventurer Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), and hijinks ensue. At one point, held by the evil drug lord Zolo, she is asked the quote at the top of this article.

Wildfires are common in Arizona
I know, this is  a great stroll down memory lane, but the quote popped into my head a few weeks back in Arizona while we were instructing the pilot offering of the Basic PIO class. At one point, one of the students in an evaluation form wrote wondering why someone who had hurricane experience was out in the desert Southwest teaching people whose primary concerns were flash flooding during the monsoon season, wildfires and other manmade issues that had no lead time.

A scene of recovery from a hurricane
Meanwhile, back in Florida, our mindset when it comes to disasters is that wow - we are going to get a pretty decent lead time should our worst potential disaster come to pass. A hurricane. We would get regular briefings, satellite imagery, Hurricane Hunter readings from inside the storm ... the works, and we can plan accordingly to evacuate our most vulnerable populations.

In other words, how will your disaster befall you? Slow like the snail, or fast like the shooting star?

To which, I responded, "Who cares?"

Think about it for a minute. A disaster - any disaster - is going to go through several phases that are very similar.
  • Preparedness. Whether it's hurricane, tornado, wildfire, monsoon or whatever season, some disasters tend to befall areas of the country - and the world - during particular times in the year, so we can think ahead to what actions our public needs to take to get ready. And, for those things that could happen at any time - a haz-mat situation, a nuclear power incident, an earthquake, well, preparedness can still be conducted. And, should conditions offer a bit of a head start (like waiting for the arrival of a hurricane or blizzard), that time can be put to very good use. 
  • Response. Once the disaster befalls an area, it's time to kick things into high gear. 120 mile per hour winds. A 7.2 on the Richter Scale. An EF-3 tornado. A train load of Methyl-Ethyl bad stuff derails. Once you know what it is you are dealing with, then you can spring your plans into play and save the day. You can communicate with your public to take the necessary actions to make sure they are getting away from the bad situation so they can start their road to recovery.
  • Recovery. Oh, yeah, when the time comes to pick up the pieces, the need to communicate will be critical. Where can people get aid to rebuild their homes? Get their kids back to school? When will the mall reopen and the latest movies come back to the local theaters? 
Oh, and another point - as a public information officer, you may be asked to pick up from where you live and the potential disasters you have prepared for and offer your assistance to those who have experienced a disaster far from where you live. Not a bad strategy to be well-versed in the All-Hazards approach to response from a public information standpoint.

Now, that's a stone to romance!
Keep that in mind, and you might discover that you are a real gem to the profession.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Westward Ho! Part Two

With the one-week Phoenix experience behind us, Kevin Tunell and I headed to his home in Yuma, Arizona where we  ate some awesome Mexican food, did some laundry (and, did I ever have to do that!) and I even got the chance to dip my toes in the mighty Colorado River.

We will never get that smell out of the fish ...
With our batteries recharged, we headed out through the desert on our way to sunny San Diego, California, There, we were going to meet with the crew who was taking Advanced PIO all the way out to the west coast. While this wasn't the first time the class had been taught outside of Emmitsburg, Maryland or Anniston, Alabama - another great facility where public information officers can learn the craft, it was on the second time the revised class was being taught, and taking the show on the road is no easy task.

Course intensity from day one
Fortunately, the folks at CalEMA have their acts together, and the facilities we had were more than adequate for the training. It's a good thing, because the exercises at times pushed the students in the Advanced PIO class to their limits on several occasions. The course revision was certainly designed to expose the students to the stresses they would experience in as real of an environment as could be simulated.

A simulated press conference
While the students handled their simulated Joint Information Centers, but the folks who volunteered to get up for the news conference and face the simulated media (played by some eager members of the control team) were ready to slap us around by the end of their second performance.

What struck me in this new version of the class was just how diabolical the scenarios were. Even with curve ball after screw ball thrown in to the mix, the students were eager to learn, and managed to at certain points get ahead of the curve to think things through and anticipate what the media's needs were going to be.

Come on in, the water's fine!
That's why we almost balked when one of our students with the San Diego Lifeguard Corps offered to take us out one night for a ride on one of their fire boats. I was sure they would consider throwing the instructors overboard into the briny deep of the Pacific, but it turns out that they just wanted to show us a good time - something we really appreciated after busy days in the classroom.

After four days of this, the students were spent, but in a very good way. As with the class I attended back in February of 2006, the students had a bond that they will share with each other for years to come.

My bags packed, ready to travel
While most of the instruction team left for home from San Diego, Kevin and I drove through the night back to Phoenix to catch our flights out - mine home, Kevin's to join his family on an east-coast vacation. It was bittersweet, but I left confident that the new course material was going to provide outstanding training to PIOs around the country for years to come.

I can hardly wait to teach it again!

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Westward Ho! Part One

So, the day after Independence Day, I checked my bag, got my boarding pass and settled down for a long flight westward. Where was I off to? One of the states I had never been to- Arizona.

The group meeting in November
Last November, a group of talented instructors, contractors and FEMA course administrators got together to talk about a redesign of the suite of courses that Public Information Officers are invited to take through their state training offices. After six months of hard work, a ton of input and some blood, sweat and tears, the pilot versions of the classes were ready to see the light of day.

The guinea pigs? Well, the State of Arizona was more than happy to bring our crew of intrepid instructors to Phoenix for a week of hard work, more than a few laughs and a tough look at the new material.

Hard-working students buckling down during an exercise
With students from agencies across the state - fire, law enforcement, emergency management, leadership, the works - we trotted out the material. I didn't know if they were ready for The Three Amigos - Kevin Tunell of Yuma County, Joe Farago of the Florida State Fire College and me - but we turned on the energy, the charm and the instructional know-how. And, they loved it

The course material put a stronger emphasis on simulation and exercises, and curtailed some of the more basic level lecture. We worked to keep on schedule with the timetable, but it seemed as if every single point the instructors brought up was met with great questions and discussion from the students. Heck, we could have been there for two weeks if we had gone into the detail the students were asking for.

Kevin Tunell instructs the leadership group to get lost during part of the exsercise
There were on-camera interviews, some news release writing and a little table discussion, But, the kicker of the entire class was the final exercise, where we broke the students into working groups, selected a few of the students to leave and serve as our executives who would be giving the interviews.

The pressure-packed exercise preparations
The pressure was on, and everyone was tense as precious minutes slipped away, but the class stood tall, delivering an outstanding performance that would have made the most savvy PIO proud.

The class clowns ... all of them
We broke at the end of the week with a list of the students from the class, some great experience, an outstanding set of comments for feedback to the course design contractors and memories which will keep our group together - even though we are a few thousand miles apart.

After Phoenix, Kevin and I bid Joe goodbye and we headed to his home in Yuma before starting the next phase of the trip... And, once I reminisce about the outstanding tacos al pastor, I'll prepare part two of the big trip out west.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rip the Band Aid off

When I was a kid, I hated getting hurt. That just comes with the territory when you are a kid and you run everywhere as fast as you can. You are bound to fall out of a tree, off your bike, from the swing set at least a few times in your life.

So, once you get over the shock of seeing your own blood, you usually go home where Dr. Mom cleans the wound out with something that hurts like heck to prevent an infection, then puts a Band Aid on it and tells you to go out to play again until dinner is ready.

Dr. Mom making things all better
While that's all well and good, when it came time to take the Band Aid off - especially from a hairy area - that's where the real challenge came in. You were faced with the dilemma of all dilemmas - either slowly work the bandage off, enduring a prolonged bit of agony or yank it off as fast as possible, pegging the pain meter to 10, but only for a short amount of time.

As a public information officer, we are faced with this dilemma whenever our organization has bad news to deliver. There are some - especially those who are in the legal profession - who believe in releasing only what is absolutely necessary to satisfy the reporter's request. That's it. No more.

Unfortunately, this approach rarely works. As one bit of information is given, it frequently leads to follow on questions. And, as the reporters set to work digging in the area you don't want them to dig into, additional information is bound to be discovered, prolonging the life of the story. After a while, the story may even cease to be about what the story was originally, instead becoming about the obfuscation itself.

Think the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Watergate. Iran Contra. In each of these cases, the slow release of bits of information was like blood in the water, attracting reporters who knew that there was more - much more - to discover the more they dug.

If you don't come clean fast, the media can make the story about the lack of cooperation
The other option when it comes to removing the Band Aid is to rip it off as fast as possible. In this case, the rapid release of information in the most timely of manners - while not pleasant - is the most direct route from zero to hero.

Remember, we are all human. And, everyone - the public, the media, colleagues - will forgive mistakes. They will forgive miscalculations. They will even forgive crass stupidity if that's what landed your organization in hot water to begin with.

Kevin Durant knows the importance of admitting he was wrong
The amazing thing is the more I looked for stories about people who admitted up front they had made mistakes, the more difficult it was to find examples to show. There was Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team who told reporters they didn't know doo doo (he used a stronger word) about his team's chemistry after critiquing their play. He apologized for his actions, citing that he had been cheerfully available to the media for eight years before this incident. A few chuckles were had, and he went back to playing the game he loves.

The reality is that the maximum disclosure of information in the shortest amount of time shows reporters that you respect their time, their efforts and their intelligence. It also shows that your organization is transparent, and willing to take steps to correct issues as they present themselves.

So, when faced with a difficult situation, go ahead. Rip that Band Aid off. You'll be happy you did.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida