PA Orientation Kit for New Commanders
Public Affairs (PA) is a powerful leadership and unit-building tool at the commander’s disposal. At present, the professional development courses leading up to a command position include practically no information on PA. Yet, this staff position is so important that it cannot remain vacant – this means that if no Public Affairs Officer (PAO) is assigned, those duties are the commander’s responsibility. (CAPR 190-1, 3c)
The commander has the opportunity to lead and enjoy a good and vigorous PA activity, supporting the PAO and allowing a two-way communication channel between the two. Successful use of PA normally results in better member retention, morale, and esprit-de-corps. Recruiting, community and media relations, also, are dependent on good PA work.
At any level of command, the PAO is responsible for “telling the CAP story” and maximizing publicity for the unit and its activities. In all PA work, the emphasis needs to be on unit members, their CAP activities (especially those on behalf of the community), and the resulting benefit to the community, the state and the nation.
CAPR 190-1, Civil Air Patrol Public Affairs Program, is the basic document governing this staff position. This very short regulation is a succinct and comprehensive list of general duties that are the PAO’s responsibility.
Why's the PAO Important?
Let’s examine some of the reasons.
- The commander and the PAO, as the commander’s delegate, are the official spokespersons for their unit. (CAPR 190-1, 4)
- Squadron and flight PAOs are the backbone of the national public affairs program and are primarily responsible for implementation of the program. (CAPR 190-1, 4a)
- PAOs at all levels advice and assist their unit commander. (CAPR 190-1, 4e)
- The PAO is responsible for creating an annual Public Affairs Plan to promote CAP, its goals and missions for internal and external audiences, and a crisis communications plan to deal rapidly and effectively with crisis situations. (CAPR 190-1, 7a)
- In time, the PAO will take additional training to become a Mission Information Officer, thereby being able to support the emergency services mission of the unit and CAP. (CAPR 190-1, 11)
- The PAO works with the Recruiting and Retention Officer to promote higher morale, better retention, and attract new members to the unit.
Using Your PAO for Maximum Impact
The PA-aware commander encourages dialog with the PAO, making sure that the PA focus on the unit, its members, and its missions is on target. As training and mission opportunities present themselves, PA can be used for maximum effect. Let’s see some of the reasons why PA can make the difference in the unit’s favor.
- The PAO needs to be present to capture an activity and prepare a suitable article. To do this, preparation is necessary to achieve optimal results. Therefore, the PAO needs to be aware of training and mission planning.
- The PAO, ideally, knows the unit and its members well. Therefore, the PAO can also be the commander’s eyes and ears in matters of morale and esprit-de-corps.
- A good PAO will be discreet, keeping the commander informed about both the good and not-so-good that is going on in the unit.
- By participating in staff meetings, the PAO can maximize PA opportunities and plan appropriate PA coverage – as directed or agreed to by the commander.
- As part of PA coverage, the PAO will stay abreast of commendable actions. The commander can find this useful in rewarding unit members.
- Planning training with an eye towards reporting and writing marketable articles will make the PAO’s job easier.
- The PAO is an essential resource when planning and publishing a Website. The PAO is responsible for the contents of the Website, a task that requires close cooperation with the staff sections, under the commander’s leadership.
- The PAO is directed to produce a newsletter (at least quarterly), for internal and external audiences. This can greatly improve unit image, morale, and esprit-de-corps.
- The PAO can improve the commander’s image by carrying the commander’s timely message in the newsletter. The newsletter needs to be appropriate for both internal and external audiences.
- In a large unit, The PAO may share the workload with assistants, if available.
Selecting the Right PAO
Selecting the right PAO is not easy. The ideal candidate has the following characteristics:
- Knows the Civil Air Patrol and has served in some ground or aviation specialty for 1-2 years,
- Likes people,
- Can communicate well with all, especially the media,
- Listens well and attentively,
- Has excellent to superior writing skills,
- Is a thorough researcher and checks facts for accuracy before publication,
- Is a capable photographer (and hopefully videographer, too),
- Has integrity, is discrete, and treats all with respect,
- Has a keen sense of ethics and works well with the character development officer and/or chaplain,
- Is gregarious and accessible,
- Gets along with cadets and senior members alike, without being over-familiar,
- Has dignity and presence,
- Can mentor others effectively, especially cadets, guiding them and motivating them to acquire better writing skills,
Many of the characteristics listed above can be learned. However, there is an essential element that, unless present, is very hard to develop. The ideal PAO has a burning need to write and tell the story. Knowing how to do it but failing to actually do it won’t get the job done. Also, doing it too late can render the work worthless for dissemination to the media. Therefore, skill, willingness and promptness are essential elements of good PA work.
The PAO, above all, must know what to say and what not to say. This can be taught, but is best learned through mentoring and hands-on experience.
At the squadron level, the staff is often thinner than at group and higher echelons. However, at the higher echelons, the PAO’s job will be complicated by the need to support lower headquarters PAOs. The lucky commander who picks the right PAO will reap the benefits of good PA and enjoy continued growth and harmony in the unit – large or small. Often, the PAO might also work effectively as an informal chief of staff or occasional liaison officer.
PAOs Function to Support the Commander
At all times, the PAO must support the commander. Any differences between them must be worked out in private – but the final decision always rests with the commander. For best results, it is recommended that the commander work closely with the PAO to ensure the commander’s actions and the PAO’s message will yield the desired effect.
The enlightened commander can have a great advocate in the PAO, who in turn cannot do without the commander’s continuing support. The ideal relationship between the commander and the PAO is one of mutual respect and reliance. Together, working in concert under the commander’s leadership, they can make an unbeatable team.
Besides supporting the PAO while following the commander’s instructions and guidance, the commander can help the PAO by facilitating participation in all public affairs training available, thus empowering the PAO to acquire, increase or reinforce necessary knowledge and skills essential for optimum job performance. The PAO’s technical expertise in conjunction with the commander’s leadership would ensure creation and maintenance of an effective, proactive and professional Public Affairs Program in the unit.