Below are the top ten things I have learned after nearly 24 years as an Air Force Public Affairs Officer. I hope there are some lessons that you can also use.
10. Never answer the phone after 3:30 on Friday--it can only be bad news.
I passed someone in the hall this morning and she said "It's Friday." That has a different connotation for me. Too many times in too many places the worst dilemmas have occurred late on a Friday afternoon when many of the "experts" we need to get help from have already departed for the weekend.
9. Every job is a PA job.
No matter where I've been, no matter what rank I am wearing, invariably people will come up to me and either say "I'm glad I don't have your job," or "I could never do your job." In fact, every Airman does my job. Just wearing the uniform communicates. The Air Force's best stories are about it's people. My job is to help them tell theirs.
8. The office symbol is PA not AP.
One of my biggest obstacles over the years has been getting Airmen I serve with in the same unit to talk to me about what they're doing. Many felt, because I was the PA, that I had a direct conduit to the media and that what they said to me would be quoted back in the morning paper. When I was the Chief of PA at Bitburg Air Base, Germany the fire marshal would always go silent when I walked up to his mobile command post during a Disaster Response Group exercise. He knew where the fire was but he never saw the light.
7. Questions don't matter, answers do.
We very seldom see or hear the question when we read a newspaper report or watch a TV news story. It's the answer that makes the story. This is one of my foundational points when I conduct media training for Airmen. Many are nervous about what questions a reporter might ask. For the most part I'm not concerned about the question. My goal, no matter the question, is to deliver a PGM--Precision Guided Message--so our real audience, the public, understands and appreciates our mission. We have to always be prepared with a message and know how to bridge to it no matter the question. We can't control the question; we have absolutely total control of the answer.
6. If you worry about it; IT won't happen.
This is somewhat counter to the faux self-actionalized people who like to say "Don't sweat the small stuff. It's all small stuff." What I've learned is that when your gut tells you something is going to be an issue then you need to start focussing on that possibility. If you can keep IT (whatever IT is) from happening then you've done your job. That doesn't mean bad news won't happen and won't be reported but you can keep that bad news from becoming an issue unto itself.
5. Routinely take the Page 2 test.
Base newspapers have what we call a Masthead and it's usually located at the bottom of Page 2. The Masthead shows the names of the people who are responsible for publishing the paper. Unless you're the Wing Commander your name isn't on top of the Masthead. My first mission as a PA is to provide trusted counsel to leaders. It's up to the leaders to take my advice. If they don't that doesn't mean I'm wrong and that they're idiots. It just means they want to go in a different direction. That's why they're leaders. State your case and then salute smartly. If you can't do that then you need to find something else to do with your life.
4. Separate your ego from your position.
This is a great lesson I learned from General Ed Eberhart when he was the commander at Air Combat Command. His point--not every battle is worth fighting. For those that are you may not win. It's not about you. It is about what's best for the Air Force.
3. How YOU react to a situation, dilemma, crisis or issue is a reflection of YOU, not the situation, dilemma, crisis or issue.
This is much easier said than done especially when we're tired and worn out because Air Force careers these days resemble a "sprintathon." Imagine having to run an entire marathon at a full-out sprint and your life depended on it. That's where we are. So each of us must rely heavily on those core AF values of Integrity First, Service before Self and Excellenc in All We Do.
2. If you want something done good and fast it takes two people; one to do it good and one to do it fast.
Sometimes we need things fast. That's ok, but it's rarely as good as it can be when you have the time to give it your best.
1. Perfection is the goal but most of the time good enough is better.
At some point you just have to pull the trigger. Give it your best shot!