What is a Public Information Officer? (Overview, Roles, and Responsibilities)

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • October 6, 2023

A public information officer (PIO) is the linchpin between an organization and the public. They’re responsible for disseminating accurate, timely, and relevant information. 

A PIO’s multifaceted responsibilities span from crisis communication to media relations. Let’s dive deeper to understand the roles of public information officers and how to become one. 

What is a Public Information Officer?

A public information officer is responsible for managing information and disseminating it to the media, public, incident personnel, and other organizations. They act on behalf of an organization to ensure seamless, timely, and transparent information flow.

PIOs typically work for governments (local and state), corporations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and large private companies. Thanks to these organizations’ complex operations and technical information, they need PIOs who can ensure timely, accurate, and sensitive  communication with intended audiences. PIOs are an organization’s ambassador, responsible for engaging with the larger community. 

Roles and Responsibilities

An organization or local government relies on public information officers for timely and relevant communications, both internally and externally. Here are their key roles and responsibilities:

Media Relations

Public information officers are responsible for building and forging relationships with media personnel such as reporters, journalists, and editors. Acting as an organization’s point of contact for media inquiries, they furnish these professionals with timely and accurate information. 

They also manage press conferences, interviews, and media briefings. Other duties include drafting and distributing communication materials, such as press releases, to the media. A great PIO also monitors their organization’s media coverage to ensure its public image stays untainted. 

Crisis Communication

Crises and emergencies strike without warning, capable of sending shockwaves beyond the organization, city, or even state. Without proper management of communications related to such incidents, an organization’s reputation and public safety may be negatively impacted.

A PIO is responsible for implementing a crisis communication plan and updating the public and media during emergency events. They should also coordinate with relevant stakeholders, such as emergency services, to ensure seamless response. 

Public Information Dissemination

Transparent and accessible information is key to preventing rumors or inaccurate communication. A PIO is responsible for creating and distributing brochures, newsletters, fact sheets, and other public communication materials. 

In today’s digital age, they also play a crucial role in managing their organization’s digital communication assets, including websites and social media channels. They use such platforms to share news, resources, and updates relevant to the recipient. Whenever someone asks about something on such platforms, the PIO should be at their service. 

Internal Communications

Clear internal communications help employees be on the same page regarding policies, activities, and decisions. But without clear channels and strategies, they’ll always be in the darkness.

PIOs coordinate with departmental heads and top leaders to communicate with employees. They also help shape company culture and values through relevant initiatives. 

Do internal stakeholders such as city planners or public administration officers need to communicate with a particular audience? PIO guides them in crafting talking points and messaging. 

Training and Preparedness

Communication is a must-have skill for efficient operations, especially in an emergency. PIO helps train staff to communicate professionally in all situations, including crises and daily tasks. They usually arrange training sessions and workshops for this purpose.

Communication is a dynamic landscape. Forward-thinking PIOs craft and update communication protocols and test their effectiveness through drills and simulations. They ensure employees have the right resources and guidelines for robust communication.

Pay and Notoriety

In the U.S., PIOs average $77,060 annually according to salary.com (data as of September 25, 2023). That ranges between $68,000 and $89,000 depending on professional experience, location, and employer.

Notoriety depends on the organization’s visibility. Other factors include industry expertise, communication skills, and networks. 

How to Become a Public Information Officer

The exciting roles and potential salary have heightened your dream to be a PIO. This journey involves formal studies, training, and networking, much like how to become a city manager or other public-facing role.

1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree gives you foundational knowledge in information management and high-level communication concepts. You can choose to major in public relations, journalism, marketing, communications, or related disciplines that will sharpen your interpersonal and language skills. 

2. Seek an Internship

An internship in PR firms, NGOs, or government agencies gives you hands-on experience that isn’t available within classroom walls. You get to learn from established professionals, gain insight, and familiarize yourself with diverse media channels. 

3. Network

Grab every networking opportunity within your reach, including university classes, internships, conferences, workshops, professional organizations, and entry-level jobs. Don’t forget digital networking channels such as LinkedIn. That way, you’ll stay up-to-date with industry happenings and boost your chances of getting jobs. 

You’ll also gain greater understanding of other roles, such as what a city manager does, helping you better collaborate with them in the future.

4. Obtain a Master’s Degree (Optional)

Want to boost your competitive edge? A master’s degree in a related field can help you. It gives in-depth knowledge and may open doors to higher-level positions. 

5. Build a Portfolio

A portfolio helps display your prowess and accomplishments in public relations, communications, and related fields. So assemble those press releases, crisis communication plans, and media campaigns in a professional online portfolio. 

How eScribe Improves City Council Effectiveness

The right government meeting software simplifies officials’ duties and responsibilities, improving their effectiveness while reducing their administrative workloads. ” eScribe’s all-in-one platform helps PIOs and other officers streamline meetings by automating submissions and approvals, managing citizen requests to speak, and more. And the best part, eScribe’s pricing works for city government budgets. 

Our platform overview highlights the top features eScribe brings to your PIO and other city officers:

  • Meeting Manager: Bid farewell to printing and chasing papers. Collaborate, create, tweak, and share meeting materials from a one-stop digital platform.  
  • Meeting Minutes: Take minutes right within the software. Assign tasks, monitor attendance, and write without hassles. 
  • Reporting and Workflows: The seamless approval and submission workflows help you ensure you’ve included everyone, honoring the different ways stakeholders such as city clerk vs. city administrator work. Missed deadlines will no longer be an issue. 
  • Collaboration Tools: Take the chaos out of your collaboration. Stakeholders can even search, download, and review the content of a virtual meeting securely from anywhere. Tracking others’ meeting activities is also a breeze. 

In fact, eScribe revolutionized how the City of Greensboro’s Clerk Office handles its meetings. The Greensboro team now enjoys top-notch reliability, usability, and customer service from the eScribe platform. 

Dive into the City of Greensboro case study to see how eScribe can work for your city, too.