What Does a Public Information Officer Do?

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A public information officer is the public face and voice of a company, organization or government agency. In this position, sometimes called a public relations specialist, your primary job is to shape or influence public perception of the organization you represent. You work closely with the senior members of your organization and the media to achieve that goal.

A Positive Slant

Information management is the most important responsibility of all public information officers, or PIOs. Your tasks typically include sending routine press releases to the media and general public on a regular basis, followed by handling phone calls related to the press release. You might send letters to stockholders or organization members regarding special projects, or new products and services. In each case, your task is to present the information factually but in a way that enhances your organization’s reputation and credibility.

Emergency Communication

The Federal Emergency Management Agency uses PIOs to keep the public updated on disaster situations, damage reports and relief efforts. As a PIO in a government agency, you handle emergency communications through the Incident Command System, or ICS. You may work for agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, disseminating information about wildfires, firefighting activities and interagency matters. You may also field questions from the public at large. In some organizations, you may be responsible for internal public relations, or you might draft speeches for senior management officials. In addition, you'll maintain files and records of press releases or other materials related to the organization.

Vital Skills

Communication skills -- both oral and written -- and interpersonal skills are vitally important for a public information officer. You may have to field aggressive media questioning after releasing controversial information or to prevent a public relations disaster in a tense, high-stress situation. In emergency management situations, you must be able to put together fragmented information and keep the public informed -- without causing excessive fear or other negative emotions. You must display good judgment when determining when, how and what you report.

Preparation, Salary and Outlook

A PIO typically has a bachelor’s degree in a field such as public relations, journalism, communications, English or business, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Internships are one way to gain experience in an industry and increase your chances of entry-level employment. Employers often prefer candidates who have experience working for a school newspaper or speaking in public, or who have taken leadership roles in their schools or community. The BLS projects 12 percent growth -- about average -- in this occupation from 2012 through 2022. Public relations specialists earned an average annual salary of $63,020 in 2013, according to the BLS.

2016 Salary Information for Public Relations Specialists

Public relations specialists earned a median annual salary of $58,020 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, public relations specialists earned a 25th percentile salary of $42,450, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $79,650, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 259,600 people were employed in the U.S. as public relations specialists.