Who we are as Public Affairs Professionals

By Maj. John Landry

Staff Sgt. Moses Ward, a public affairs broadcast specialist assigned to the 50th Public Affairs Detachment, captures video of a 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade sling-load operation supporting 3rd Division Artillery on Fort Stewart, Nov. 6, 2016. Photo by Lt. Col. Brian Fickel

Throughout my professional career, especially while in leadership positions, I’ve come to understand leaders require an understanding of the capabilities of their subordinates. However, for many reasons, many of our fellow Soldiers have little to no understanding of the capabilities of their Public Affairs colleagues, often labeling us as either picture takers, family readiness group informers, or an extension of their admin personnel. This is often perpetuated by a complete lack of understanding among our own kind, and the legacy they leave behind.

First, we are professional Army officers, non-commissioned officers and Soldiers. Second, we are professional communicators. Third, we are peers and colleagues, not the competition.

This is yet again another simple concept that remains lost among us. Just because we can operate outside the Army doesn’t mean we have the right to ignore our original purpose. In past jobs, I’ve allowed myself to act only as a Public Affairs practitioner, choosing to forget I have more to offer my command and unit. I was naïve enough to believe this was normal and expected only to discover it was value lost, not added.

This means there are times when our commands and units will require us to step away from our technical profession and embrace a job of a Soldier for the betterment of the organization. We must not fail, embrace this event and demonstrate our value added whether you are a Soldier or part of our civilian workforce.

What we bring

We are professional communicators. We are conversation bridge builders. That’s it, it’s that simple. It’s as simple as identifying all the audiences your command and supporting staff needs to address and then being able to help them determine the appropriate message and method to reach those audiences.

In the book “On Deadline: Managing Media Relations” it points out we as PA/PR professional serve as more than a conduit between our organizations and the media because our skills can be used to help others across our organization communicate more effectively.

Lt. Col. Joel Lynch, public affairs officer for the Arkansas National Guard, addresses communication issues with senior leaders from across the nation Jan. 7 at the 2017 National Guard Senior Commanders Forum held at the Professional Education Center on the Robinson Maneuver Training Center in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Photo by Sgt. Stephen Wright

Imagine a unit where tasks and orders are no longer lost in translation. How much time, energy and resources could that save a unit?

This current environment mandates we remain vigilant in building communications plans that address our audiences, both internal and external. Traditional Public Affairs Annex formats for OPORDs are just not enough anymore.

The communications world has grown too complex. This implies we remain relevant and current with the profession’s technology and tactics. You are ineffective if you’ve determined the correct message, medium and timing, but are unable to execute out it of a lack of knowledge. You’re there to help your command and unit reach desired audiences. Don’t fail us, stay professional and demonstrate you’re value added.

We are a team

The Army Public Affairs community is a collective team of professional communicators. We all represent each other. Your performance in your current job shapes the presentation of those who follow in your footsteps at that job. Subordinate unit public affairs practitioners at lower levels and those adjacent to your level also represent you and our branch. Our collective performance is the largest factor in our profession’s reputation. It’s not about what general officer you work for, how important you think you are or what your subordinate units can do for you. It’s about what you can do for them and how we take care of our community.

In that spirit, I implore you all to join me in sharing our collective knowledge and best practices freely. This includes your mistakes. Please share the times you’ve failed with us in hopes that those who listen will prevent further failures across our community. Admitting you’ve failed is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of humble strength and your ability to share them will help those who come after us for generations to come.

For those growing in the field it’s about taking the time to learn from mistakes and learning from them so you don’t repeat them. Don’t fail us; we are your peers, not your competition.

Army Public Affairs still has much work to do in order to reach the level of understanding required among our Army leaders. However, it starts with us and understanding who we are. We are professional Army officers, non-commissioned officers and Soldiers. We are professional communicators!

Major John Landry is an U.S. Army Public Affairs Officer currently serving as the deputy PAO for the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. John earned his Master’s degree in Public Relations & Corporate Communications from Georgetown University. Follow him on Twitter @JohnELandry.