Why Public Affairs should be your best friend

When an Airman comes up with a great idea, it’s not very common for their first thought to be: “I should totally go tell public affairs about this!”

And why should it be? My career field’s knee-jerk response to new initiatives has largely been to speculate on the repercussions of what would happen if the media misconstrued the information.

But here’s the thing: As much as it can be discouraging to be questioned about something you care about, winning over the support of one of the Air Force’s master communicators can dramatically improve your chances of success.

Public affairs has access to a plethora of tools that reach thousands of people both inside and outside the organization ranging from YouTube channels to internal newsletters to news media to the wing commander’s ear.

These Airmen are constantly looking for ways to get the biggest bang for their buck when developing and executing on their broader communication strategies, so it’s important that you’re able to relay the significance of your initiative while simultaneously being open to their advice after asking for help.

This Air Force capability is integral to an intrapreneur’s planning and execution process if for nothing other than to get marketing and messaging advice from those who hold those skills.

If done successfully, you’ll have an advocate on your team who can help effectively reach your project’s key stakeholders like commanders, contracting officers, or students.

To help out all you Air Force intrapreneurs out there, I’ve compiled a few tips and tricks for how to interface with public affairs.

Let’s get started:

Reframe the request

Don’t ask for a photo to be taken, a video produced, or a graphic posted. Instead, tell a public affairs specialist about your project and what kind of communication objective you’re hoping to achieve by coming to them. It could be as simple as giving recognition to one of your Airmen, as straightforward as getting more people to attend your event, or as complex as changing the perception of a career field across an installation.

Respect their craft

It can be hit or miss when searching for a PA who gets as excited about your idea or project as you are, but those who do make it their personal mission to make some amazing content and get your message to your key stakeholders. While I can’t guarantee you’ll find that person, it’s better to approach PA with your own story rather than simply trying to task them with work.

If you approach them with respect for their craft and ask for their advice, you’re much more likely to find someone who cares about your story and makes it look great to your key audience.

Schedule brief initial meetings to discuss

One interesting thing I’ve learned after working at AFWERX for a few months is that scheduling an initial meeting to talk on the phone or face-to-face with someone is an incredibly effective way to establish a relationship. Attempting to explain your project in detail during an impromptu stop at their office typically feels forced and you come across as just another person asking for help.

If you stop by, call, or email them and ask to schedule a meeting to chat, you get to reserve time with a PA who is prepared to hear about your passion for the project you’re working on and provide insight.

Follow-up with resources and background info

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tasked with writing a story about an event on base and it’s like pulling teeth to get the details I need from my point of contact. A lot of people seem to forget that PAs usually don’t know anything about what they’re producing content on until the subject matter expert provides it.

One way to make it super easy for them to say “yes” to sharing content about your project or providing their insight on how to best communicate it to your stakeholders is to write up as many relevant details as possible and send it over to them. It’s best to do this in a follow-up email sent directly to whoever you met with in-person as opposed to sending it to an org box where it may not reach someone who understands what you’re asking for.

Find the storytellers

While PAs are expected to do everything from produce videos to take photos to interface with media, most of them have specific skills they’ve honed more than others and things they’re passionate about. If, through consulting with your local PA shop, you determine that having some professional photos taken of your team working on a project is the best course of action moving forward, then why not ask for the portfolios of a few of the best photographers in their office?

You can also ask and see who in their shop may be most interested in the subject of the project you’re working on and make them feel part of your team. Depending on the appeal of your project, you may just have a few PAs compete over joining the project. After all, projects they care about give them the chance to build their own reputation within the Air Force, a certain industry, or a creative field.

As a recent example, one of my coworkers completed an experiment called Project NEXUS where his team graduated 18 Airmen in technical competencies that are currently lacking in the Air Force.

Throughout the span of the course, three Air Force stories were published about the initiative, a whole deck of quality photos were taken, and numerous social media posts were shared from personal and official government accounts.

[Project NEXUS: Empowering the USAF’s digital talent] [Project NEXUS graduates first class with focus on technology problem solving] [Project NEXUS tests developing technologically ready Airmen]

Why? Partially because innovation is the buzzword of the day, but also largely because myself and a few other PAs cared about the story and the people behind it after watching it grow from beginning to end. I was as wrapped up in the enthusiasm of making something new as those who did all the work to make it happen and really wanted more people to know how cool it was.

The bottom line is that, to reap the often untapped potential of PA Airmen, you need to provide as much value to them as you’re hoping to receive — make their time and effort worthwhile.

Whether you do that by treating each PA as a unique creative and marketing professional or readily providing tons of background information, you’ll be on the right track to getting support from one of the most uniquely powerful career fields in the Air Force.

This article originally posted on Medium at:

Jordyn Fetter is a 6-year Public Affairs specialist in the Air National Guard and currently serving in the capacity of AFWERX Marketing and Communications manager.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Air Force. The appearance of external links on this site does not constitute official endorsement on behalf of the U.S. Air Force or Department of Defense. The Air Force does not endorse any non-federal government organizations, products, or services.