I’ve killed my share of pixels writing about lousy public information officers (PIOs), and I remain astonished at their pervasiveness in government. By contrast, I’m very appreciative of those who do their job well.
At the Atlanta Police Department, the communications division was frequently treated as an afterthought. Under some regimes, the communications folk were muzzled until the Chief personally OK’d the release of info. So former AJC reporter Carlos Campos deserves a lot of credit for transforming APD communications into an office that’s been highly effective. It’s timely and responsive to the news media, for the most part. And it’s shown a proactive approach to generating positive and worthwhile stories showing cops doing their jobs and solving crimes.
It appears Chief George Turner has given Campos and staff the leeway to actually share information on a timely basis. It may rankle some cops (who love to gripe and now have something new to gripe about internally). But Campos is mostly making APD look good day in and day out.
The Fulton County Superior Court made a shrewd move by hiring former AJC reporter Don Plummer to create and run its public information office. Fulton has more high-profile cases than any county in Georgia. Plummer was indispensable (so I hear) during the lengthy Brian Nichols murder trial in 2008. Judges typically shun publicity, understandably. A guy like Plummer can provide needed balance between judicial discretion and the need for openness.
Incredibly, the Fulton Superior Court discontinued Plummer’s job in January, firing him shortly after he helped the court push back against some bad publicity surrounding the release of a man accused of killing a state trooper. He’s a talented guy and deserved better.
My favorite PR guy isn’t a PR guy at all. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter may be the only DA in town without a communications specialist. He doesn’t need one. He answers the phone when reporters call his office. If you leave a message, he’ll call you back. If you show up in his lobby, he’ll eventually poke his head out the door and growl “whaddaya need?”
Porter usually knows why you’re there and typically wastes little time with reporters. “I’m not going on camera” will frequently come out of his mouth before you ask (he talked on TV about the “Mansion Madame” story exactly once, then subsequently declined). When he thinks his constituents need to see him talking about an issue, he’ll do it on TV. When an issue warrants, he’ll spend time in his office with reporters giving them background.
Porter has his share of critics within the Gwinnett County Courthouse. But he understands the news media and his role as a public official engaged in high-profile activity. And he gets re-elected handily every four years. The best publicist is frequently the guy who needs no publicist.
Two reasonably new additions to the PIO world deserve honorable mentions for outstanding service to their employers and accessibility to the news media.
Tracy Flanagan is the overworked PIO for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department. With Fulton’s seemingly-endless jail and courthouse security issues, the former WAGA reporter stepped into a bit of a hornet’s nest. She’s a calm and responsive spokeswoman for an agency that needs it.
Reese McCranie is very protective of his boss, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed. But he’s also is savvy and helpful. Reed’s two predecessors treated the news media like the enemy toward the end of their terms. Here’s hoping that McCranie (and his boss, Sonji Jacobs Dade) can help Reed end that streak.
This isn’t intended as a comprehensive list. I adore and admire many other PIOs. But I’ve written enough. Thank you for reading.