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Information Officer

What They Do

Insider Info

Generally, information officers handle questions from members of the media and other groups such as consumers, corporations and governments. They also prepare press conferences, speeches and reports. Plus, they handle internal communications.

But their main job is make sure that their employers appear in the best possible light. They do this in a number of ways.

They write press releases and prepare promotional packages that highlight the accomplishments and activities of their employers.

They also pitch favorable story ideas to reporters and editors. But this approach rarely brings immediate results.

Editors and reporters are generally suspicious when information officers approach them with such stories because they do not want to create the appearance of being used. This approach is generally more successful if the media outlet can claim a story as an exclusive.

And PR officers are the first line of defense whenever there is bad news. This puts them squarely into the glare of the public spotlight.

Jeff Gaulin managed media relations for a government department. He says information officers must keep a cool head when they answer tough questions from reporters.

"There's no point in taking abuse personally," he says. "There is no point in getting upset and arguing with the reporter."

In fact, good information officers will spend a lot of social time with reporters. This allows them to find out what their needs are and, if necessary, influence them. But information officers cannot be too friendly with reporters. Otherwise, they may hurt their employers.

But information officers also run the risk of being closely identified with unpopular causes or individuals.

There is hardly an organization today that does not employ information officers: governments, corporations, nonprofit groups, and even "ordinary" individuals. This last group has become a big source of business, says Arnold Zenker. He was the head of the CBS network news during the 1960s. He now runs a public image consulting company in Boston.

Working hours for information officers vary a lot. They may to have answer questions from reporters and others during all hours of the day, especially if there is an emergency or crisis situation.

More often than not, work will interfere with their private lives. Gaulin says he has answered media calls while he was shopping for groceries or hiking with his wife. Information officers may also have to travel a lot.

But you don't have to be in great physical shape. People with physical disabilities may also find job opportunities. "There is good access to these positions for people with physical disabilities," says Gaulin.

The Internet has also put more pressure on PR officers. They have to keep an eye on more news sources than ever before. And the almost instantaneous nature of the Internet gives them less time to respond to any breaking developments.

"An item could be on the Internet even before the information has reached the organization concerned," says Arbo Mattila. Mattila a former executive director of the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS).

At a Glance

Make sure your employer looks good in the public eye

  • They write press releases and prepare promotional packages
  • You can work for government, corporations, nonprofit groups or even individuals
  • Most information officers are journalists first, but you can get training specifically in PR