And we’re here to help.
Ronald Reagan called those nine little words the “nine most terrifying words in the English language.”
I can see his point. We’ve all heard the stories of government waste, arrogance and down-right nastiness.
However, having spent 15 years of my 17-year public relations career in government, I’ve also seen the true dedication public employees have for their work and for the public they serve. The key is never losing sight of the “service” in public service.
Tomorrow, I’ll be joining a panel of government communicators at the South Sound group meeting of the Puget Sound Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. This group of committed PR practitioners is predominantly state and local government communicators so I’m guessing they’ll be able to share as much or more as we are sharing with them.
The topic, “PR in the Public Sector,” is particularly timely as our state Legislature looks for places to cut the state budget. Last month, lawmakers approved a supplemental budget that cut $1 million specifically from executive branch public relations staff. With roughly three months left in the fiscal year, a $1 million cut would have put roughly 40 communicators on the street.
In vetoing this cut, Gov. Gregoire demonstrated her understanding of the importance of public sector communicators when she said, “Communications staff provide information to the public, media, and legislators, which advances the goal of transparency in government. Given the importance of the work performed by these employees, ranging from providing information on real-time traffic to public health concerns to unemployment insurance and licensed child care facilities and the budget, it is difficult to see how the public would be served through the sudden and dramatic elimination of these staff.”
Public relations gets a bad rap– especially in government. Behind the scenes, however, you’ll find the public information officer from the Department of Transportation who is charged with providing reporters information from the scene of that oil tanker crash you saw on the news. You’ll see the Sheriff’s office spokesman who wakes up from a sound sleep to rush to the scene of a grisly shooting where he’ll conduct briefings for the media and run interference so aid workers and law enforcement can do their jobs. You’ll find the communications staffer who was gunned down at a community event he planned for his Congresswoman.
We do these jobs because we love them. We love being part of the action, helping people understand what their government is doing for them, answering people’s questions and sharing stories about the good in government.
When times are tough and budgets are tight, people expect more than ever from their government…and believe it or not, most of us are here to help.