Intro to series… Government/Military Public Affairs

We recently had the opportuntiy to interview Barbara Burfeind, APR, Strategic Communication Director for Defense Visual Information about governemnt/military public affairs. Burfeind has spent 19 years in Public Affairs and is the Immediate Past President of the PRSA National Capital Chapter. Here is our interview:

New Pros: What is the work environment like?
Barbara Burfeind: I work in an office environment with a mix of military, government civilians, and contractors. We all cross paths informally on a daily basis and there are weekly scheduled staff meetings with the deputy directors and/or the directors. Much of the time in the office is spent on the computer working on email, planning, and drafting documents and briefings. My other time is spent attending meetings and traveling to meet with other organizations for briefing and/or training on Visual Information.

Who are your “clients”?
Our key customer (who uses the DoD imagery acquired by military photographers in the field) is the Department of Defense – to include the militaryServices, the Joint Force, and the Combatant Commands. Other users include the interagency, such as the State Department. Our website is also used by the general public.

Are there specific PR activities you do often?
Yes, to include branding of our organization’s imagery capabilities, writing a strategic plan and drafting informational/training briefings on our organization. I also coordinate the presentations and visits with our users to obtain feedback for assessment purposes.

Are there specific PR activities you do not typically do?
I no longer do media relations or press interaction on a regular basis.

What other activities are important in this industry?
Research, analysis, evaluation and assessment are becoming more important than ever to linking activities and programs to strategic goals and objectives. Bottom line, more organizations want to know what PR/PA provides – the return on investment.

What are the industry-specific challenges?
Keeping up with technology and time – there’s so much technology and there’s never enough time. So you have to hone your abilities in prioritization and focusing on both the immediate task and the big picture.

What might be surprising to learn about this industry?
The PR industry can be a very small world. You can be in another country and meet past colleagues there. And no matter what area of PR or Public Affairs one chooses, there is a lot of commonality.  The basics still apply across the board.

What kind of non-PR skills and courses are important/beneficial?
Other languages and international/cultural awareness. Both bring an expanded perspective and also expand where you can work. Other non-PR skills include business and finance skills, especially in planning budgets and justifying costs, as well as human resource management and working with contractors.

What specific tips can you provide to help new pros find a job?
Tailor your cover letter and resume for every job application. Take the initiative and network with people from organizations you would want to work for, researching the organization and asking what it’s like working there, but without expectation of a job. Practice your elevator speech at every opportunity – your oral skills are just as important as your written skills. The key is to ask questions and look for opportunities.