Public Information & Crisis Communications

The Role of the Public Information Officer

The Unique Role of the Public Information Officer

My good friend, Christine Townsend, has probably one of the most interesting backgrounds in communications. Not only a police officer herself, but she served as the Head of Corporate Communications for the City of London Police – during some of the most watched events in the city’s history; Trials, bombings and the Olympics!

We dive into the unique challenges of Public Information Officers (PIO’s) and the role that they play as the intermediary between the stakeholders that they serve, the government and the people.

Show Notes:


Christine: The similarities people say it’s money. It’s not about money. I think it’s about persuasion, behavior change cause marketing the behavior change is getting someone to do something that is a benefit to your brand. Perhaps that’s how I understand marketing is, ultimately it’s the bottom line.

But the bottom line in public communication is taxpayer’s money. They are still customers. And I think people forget that and they also forget that you, yourself are a taxpayer. So you’ll still have to give the best service that you would expect. And that service it’s transactional still. Behavior change is at the bottom of it, the heart of it, I should say.

So I suppose the difference is that you’re not gonna lose business if you get it wrong. You’re not gonna fold, you’re not gonna have a collapse of a company if it all goes horribly wrong but you are just gonna have to work harder to gain people’s trust again, and I think trust maybe is the currency.

Intro VO: Welcome to Endless Coffee Cup, a regular discussion of marketing, news, culture, and media for our complex digital lifestyle. Join Matt Bailey as he engages in conversation to find insights beyond the latest headlines and deeper understanding. For those involved in marketing, grab a cup of coffee. Have a seat, and thanks for joining.

Matt: Well Hello and welcome dear listener, to another edition of the Endless Coffee Cup podcast. And after quite a break of recording podcasts, we are now back and going through with some great guests. We’re gonna have some previous guests returned but also some new guests. And one of them today I am really excited about Christine has been partnering with me on some conferences and training sessions that we’ve been doing over in Dubai.

And so we’ve been spending some time together and I can’t say how fun it has been to get to know you, Christine. Christine has got a background as a public information official for the London police. So there’s like this amazing background of not only being a public information official, but also for the police.

And you’ve got some amazing background Christine. Tell us a little bit about yourself? What made you want to get into public information, but then also what are some of the notable things that you have done in your career?

Christine: Oh, wow. Thank you for having me. I’ve been excited to do this quite some time and to be introduced as having fun is just brilliant, I love it. Always my priority is to have fun with whatever you do. So, wow, where to start. So, as you can probably tell, I’m from the UK. Always wanted to be a journalist and so much so that I would spend all my school holidays at the local newspaper from about the age of 14.

And I used to really enjoy doing court reporting and this is before social media, way before internet, anything like that. I’d go to the court, I’d listen to the sentences and then I’d go to the police station and speak to the desk sergeant. They’d tell me what’s been going on overnight and then I’d go back to the newspaper, write it up on my typewriter.

And then that would be published in the weekly newspaper, which if you think seeing something in print with your name next to it is such a thrill, really excited. And then, went on doing that. Ended up at news International as was way before the phone hacking. Worked on News of the World, worked with Piers Morgan.

He won’t remember me but when he was the editor of the pop column and just got this amazing insight into media, which I found so exciting. And just seeing the world unfold around you and all the events and I have very key memories of news break about the global events and just being so excited by that.

And then the universe transpired to put me into policing simply because my mom became a police officer. And it became awkward when I was a journalist and she was in the police and she ended being called out to New York as a result of 911 to be a family liaison officer. And at the time I was in national newspapers and it caused a conflict of interest, shall we say.

And so I gave up journalism at that point cause I just didn’t feel that it resonated with my values and couldn’t work out why. And then of course, the phone hacking scandal really came to light many years later and I was glad I left because of that. So she suggested that if I wanted to work out what I did, I joined the police as a dispatcher.

A 999 call, like a call taker, said you’d either love it or hate it, you know what you need to do. I did like it, but I didn’t love it. And I loved the police. I loved how exciting it could be. And then a job came up, I did a brief spell actually doing some pop and lifestyle writing on the side and it didn’t really get me as excited.

And then a job came up to build a website or be the editor of a website for a police force in the UK. And I got the job and my job was to go around the place, do cool stuff and write about it. And I was like, I’ve got the Venn diagram of perfection in what I wanna do with my life. I get to go out in helicopters, I get to play with police dogs. I get to do all of this and write about it and build a website and engage with the public.

So for me it was just like a dream come true. Then I joined as a police officer and then from that point onwards, I went to, the best thing about policing is that it’s a real portfolio career, so you can stay in the same place, but you can do many different jobs.

I ended up moving to another force City London Police built up through there, and by virtue again of the universe steering me in the right direction, ended up being director of communications and managed really high profile events I’d never expected to see in my lifetime. So, like Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister, London 2012 Olympics.

And also some really horrible stuff. G20 riots, historic sex abuse cases and things like that. Then I moved over to government and went to the Ministry of Justice, worked on youth justice initiatives. Did a little stint at the Department of Energy around fracking and I say little because it was just horrible.

Fracking was such a contentious issue. No smoking campaigns, health related stuff that didn’t really bloke my boat as much as policing and got a very long story short ended up in Texas. I’m cutting out a very big, possibly crucial poem, married detection. Ended up in Austin, Texas and that’s what I said.

Matt: Yeah. I could tell even when you talk about your experience in the policing you have much more of your face changes. You look back on that rather fondly as compared to some of the other departments or other areas. And I can tell from our conversations, that is always something you look back on very fondly?

Christine: Oh, absolutely. In fact, I was laughing the other day cause I remember very clearly, I think I must have been about eight at school and we all had to do a project on something that we were interested in. And I remember my project being on the police inverted commerce.

And I got all this research, I drew all these drawings, I went to the police station. I interviewed the police officers. I didn’t know any of them. I just walked in and was like, I’m doing a project for Scott’s eight, and I got the highest marks, and I still remember that project and how much I loved it. And it’s when you look back, you think, oh, I was supposed to do this.

That said it wasn’t easy and there’s a lot of it that I look back on and I’m just in horror simply because of humankind is not always kind, I will say. And so you see that side of life and people that does challenge you in a lot of ways, but it is rewarding. It’s not financially rewarding in any way, shape, or form until you get to later in your career.

And if you are clever enough, you can turn what you know into a real niche subject that if it can change society for the better, that’s satisfying to me. And I didn’t realize how much I’d learned. I didn’t realize that I didn’t need to go to college. I haven’t been to college. I didn’t have no formal education apart from what I’ve done subsequently on off my own back.

And actually, I wouldn’t change it for the world. That for me, the stories I could tell and the stories I shouldn’t tell, money can’t buy experiences. Very clearly I remember being able to go out in the police helicopter and we were hovering over Hyde Park and Kings of Leon were hanging in concert, and we didn’t have a front row seat, we had a complete above stage feet, and it’s just then flying off down the River Thames and just those sorts of things you think, wow.

At the time you don’t appreciate until it’s passed, how amazing it is to do something like that.

Matt: So what is and I love the fact that you’re coming from such a different angle and we talk about the world of communications and I’ve brought you in to talk to other government communicators, but also marketers, and there is such a similarity between public information and how you present it, as well as marketing content. Knowing your audience and how you shape that message and how you present that. What are some ways that you see where it’s similar and some ways where it does depart a little bit from someone who comes from that marketing background as opposed to someone who’s more in the government communications?

Christine: I suppose the similarities People say it’s money. It’s not about money. I think it’s about persuasion behavior change cause marketing, the behavior change is getting someone to do something that is a benefit to your brand. Perhaps. That’s how I understand marketing is, ultimately it’s the bottom line.

But the bottom line in public communication is taxpayer’s money. They are still customers. And I think people forget that and they also forget that you, yourself are a taxpayer. So you’ll still have to give the best service that you would expect. And that service it’s transactional still. Behavior change is at the bottom of it, the heart of it, I should say.

That’s why I love things like nudge theory which we did a lot of in the UK, which is quite pioneering at the time. And so it’s essentially it’s, if you’re changing someone’s perception because you want crime to come down or because you want people to be safe, that you’re marketing an idea that they need to get behind the end result is not necessarily, actually it probably is financial when you think about it because why do we want to keep people safe or without sounding cynical, it’s because partly it comes down to saving money. You saving people’s taxpayer pounds, dollars.

So I suppose the difference is that you’re not gonna lose business if you get it wrong. You’re not gonna fold, you’re not gonna have a collapse of a company if it all goes horribly wrong but you are just gonna have to work harder to gain people’s trust again, and I think trust maybe is the currency.

Matt: Absolutely. And like I said, there is that financial aspect to it of, like you were talking about the anti-smoking campaigns that ultimately there is a financial implication there, and we’re asking people to follow good habits or change behavior that is ultimately going to benefit you or now you’re talking about greater good or something like that, but I like the nudge theory.

We had talked about that and how, it’s being used more and more to again, move people in a behavior that is desired. Whether it is commercial or public it is an effective way communicating.

Christine: Absolutely. And when you think about things like healthcare, if you compare and contrast not getting into the huge issue of US healthcare, what if you compare and contrast the US and UK, healthcare in the UK, the whole point is we want to keep people healthy because we can’t afford to look after them.

So it’s behavior change and I really do sound cynical, but of course we want people to be safe and healthy, not just for money’s sake. But when you have to change behavior because you can’t have that pressure on the National Health Service, that’s a different driver than getting people into hospital because it’s gonna make money but we’ll stay away from that.

But the nudge theory thing, where I’ve seen it used so effectively was a pilot we did. Way at the beginning of it, and we probably didn’t even call it nudge theory then, but there is the behavioral unit in the UK, which I urge everyone to look at.

But if you just Google nudge unit, it’ll give you so much insight in how you can affect behavioral change. And it’s not as Machiavellian as it sounds it’s just, it’s more effective and cost effective. So we had a real issue with people not turning up to the police station if they were bailed for a crime, they just weren’t showing up when they were supposed to.

And probably people with more chaotic lifestyles than most. So it wasn’t as if they used to having a diary and things like that. And they’d get a letter but quite often they weren’t always at that address that they’d given. So we decided let’s try text messages because contrary what people think, people do even if they’re without permanent residents, they still have mobile phones.

And it was in the early days of mobile phones. And so they get a text message just to say, don’t forget to turn up. And we transformed the numbers because if you imagine that once someone doesn’t show up, they are then liable to be arrested. So we have to go and find them. We have to arrest them, we have to process them.

That is police officer hours that should be used elsewhere. So simply by a simple text message that was costing like 5, 10 pence, we were saving thousand. And if you break that down and if you were to do a cost benefit analysis of that it really did help. It significantly reduced the effort we had to go to find people.

And it wasn’t because they were trying not to be dealt with, it was just cause they forgot. So it was more a case of not expecting people to do what we wanted to them to do because we were the police and you must, it was more a case of why aren’t they and I think that curiosity is so important in any kind of communication.

It’s like why are they doing it or not doing it. We can’t just expect them to behave the way we behave because we are the anomaly, like normal, and we use that term very loosely. People do not act like the police. They do not think like what you think nor should they. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to be honest.

So that is that empathy, understanding perspective that should shift and shape everyone’s communication style.

Matt: That is such a great example because that curiosity of asking questions of why aren’t they doing this? What’s preventing this? And finding the best method of communication to make that happen.

I I love it because that is central to persuasion and we just see these divergent paths of what you’re asking people to do. I am fascinated with it because most of marketing is all about consumption. Whereas this is about health and things that need to happen and things that could benefit you.

So there’s always I like the spin or the difference of that.

So let me switch gears a little bit cause one of the things I’m absolutely fascinated with, and you have an endless amount of stories about the London Olympics and what it was like to be the information officer. What were the challenges of that?

Maybe things that you didn’t even imagine you would’ve had to deal with when they came around?

Christine: Well, I would like to clarify there were hundreds of us. It wasn’t just me. So if you imagine you’ve got a whole country that is hosting because it wasn’t just one city. So, bearing in mind the UK is smaller than tech, about the same size as Texas.

We had, sites on the south coast for sailing. We had stadiums, football stadiums, we had various places up north. It was just the whole country was involved. So further I didn’t know I was ever being in that position.

I remember, so just put it into context, when we knew we had won the bid, it was the On the 7th of July, we had the London bombings. So we had a very short lived celebration because the very next day everything just changed entirely. So we were like, oh, we’ve won it, this is gonna be amazing.

Then that happened and of course that dramatically changed all approaches to things, to events, security thing completely. So the planning of it, we took a different direction. And I did not realize that I would still be in policing because it was eight years later it would’ve been, and I thought I’d be long gone by then.

I didn’t consider it to be my life’s work. And so I actually was at City London Police at the time and it was phenomenal. Just that sense of wow, the whole world is going to be watching us for two weeks and not just two weeks, but Paralympics as well. Also the run up to it and then post.

And I remember sitting down thinking what do I do? I’m so small. Our team is so small compared to other police. And also that it was just the most significant multi-agency response to anything I’ve ever been involved in. It wasn’t just London, it was the country. And so we had to really shift gears around, bear in mind as well, it was like the early days of social and I’d already worked on a lot of national digital stuff and training police and what have you.

And so, we had to get our heads around a lot very quickly, even though we knew it was coming because things changed so quickly. you think what happened in that period of time in terms of digital engagement, we didn’t know that Twitter didn’t exist when it was announced. So that was also a new thing.

And I think one of the things we did, which I was really proud of, we found every police officer who spoke a different language in our force and we asked them to record a very short YouTube video welcoming people and to ask them to keep safe. And we wanted to look at what would be the perception of a visitor coming to London.

And so when you’ve got 47 different police forces, they were being moved to all sorts of places over the country. So they would come from different forces into London. We had to talk about educating them. Policing, London’s very different from policing the small town in Kowa or up north or what have you. And so it was that how are we gonna make sure we present a united brand of British policing. That is respectable around the world when we’re not great on languages. In fact, that was one of the things I was always frustrated about, considering how diverse the UK is. We are terrible at speaking different languages.

And so I wanted to make sure we had everything we possibly could in different languages for people that we knew would be a bit shocked by coming to London. So we did these short clip videos, we had leaflets there. We wanted to be a visible presence that wasn’t frightening. But in the two weeks actually in the run up to the opening ceremony, that was when we were most nervous because huge target, London’s always been a huge target for terrorism. And so of course we have that in our minds all the time anyway as a country. When you come to the States and it doesn’t seem to factor, but I’ve grown up in the shadow of the IRA and then, other threats.

And so we wanted to counter at that but I remember sitting and being on call, the opening ceremony, and it was the most fun clenching few hours because that’s when we were expecting the worst. Because we were having to do sit reps. Those situation reports, gosh, I think it was 15, half an hour, something like that.

Everyone was having to put in these reports. So the central command in London was massive. Just this constant noise of something’s gonna happen, something’s gonna happen, and nothing happened. It was the most quiet two weeks of my life. We literally sat and watched the Olympics and it was wonderful.

I was so proud, but nothing happens. This part of me is very disappointing, cause that’s where, you know.

Matt: That gets to something because and I can see where the disappointment is because one of the things that I have learned from you and attending some your sessions is the amount of planning that goes into, as a public information official, the amount of planning and not just plan. Planning all of the what ifs.

Anticipating everything that could go wrong or everything that will happen and what are all the eternals and then creating a plan. I love the fact that you said that there was this binder that you traveled, it was always there, ready to go, and it was your what if binder.

Christine: Oh yeah, I am great fun at dinner parties, but I’m the one you want to travel with always, cause I know how to get out.

Matt: So, So what’s your binder?

Christine: So you have to have a great imagination and I always had a great imagination as a child, but I was also always a nervous child. To the point where my mum had to take the medical dictionary away from me and I wasn’t allowed to watch Crime Watch because I’d sit there and go, what if? And it’s like having that morbid curiosity about the worst that could happen has actually stood being good stead. So essentially the binder would be what will we do if this happens?

What will we say? What needs to be done? I don’t mean from an operational perspective because they are everywhere. I worked at Gatwick Airport and that book was fantastic. I loved it. This book was like, if there is a bird strike on a plane and blah, blah, blah, that’s, or if there’s a galley file, or if this happens, if that happens, then we will do this. So it is literally if this, then that.

So you can do it. I find it’s a lot easier to do these things when it is things like a plane crash or, a train crash in the subway or, building falls down. They’re the very black and white straightforward things to do. So you would say we have this situation, therefore we will need to notify these people and we will take this stance on this and these are our lines to take and this is what we would say if this happens.

Not everyone does it, for me I find it gives clarity in a time of chaos to have framework because people will say to me, what you don’t like up? How can you work in the police? It’s so unpredictable. It’s not actually, people are not as unpredictable as you think they are.

Situations generally play out in the same way people will. I can read a news story and be like, yeah, I know what happened behind the scenes here, I can tell that cause of this. It’s generally, predictable life is generally predictable to a point. Where it gets tricky is when it’s the reputational risk stuff, when it involves maybe a person you’ve worked with when they’ve done something that it comes completely out of left field.

And that I found challenging around the historic sex abuse cases that came out as a result of Jimmy Savile. I dunno if you are aware. The TV presenter, the Netflix documentary came out about this systemic sex abuse. And so that was tough because that was one that you don’t even want to predict that happens.

So when it’s things that are either personal or more emotional, a building collapse is horrible. Yes, of course, if there are injuries and what have you, but it’s not so emotive when it comes to things like, historic sex abuse, that’s tough. I had someone walk into the police station and report some things that had happened to them as a child by one of our police officers, and the receptions didn’t know what to do, so ever they call the press office.

I would sit and just be like it’s pretty likely that this is going to happen. It’s happened before, so let’s imagine it, work through it and have it there. So you need that for people to feel confident and empower them, I think.

And that’s what’s important. You can’t just turn up for work and be like well we’ll just see what happens and then we’ll deal with it when it happens, that’s the worst.

Ad break: Hey everyone, this is Matt and thanks for listening. Just a quick break in the middle of the podcast here to let you know there’s a couple ways that you can connect with. The first is That’s the learning site where you can see courses on analytics, courses on digital marketing, across paid search, seo, multiple disciplines.

And then also you can connect with us on Slack. Go to Slack if you’re there and look for us at endless coffee Connect with us. I’d love to hear from you. Hear. Ails you in the realm of digital marketing. Are there courses you need information that you’d like to hear, or maybe some past guests that you’d like to hear more from?

Thanks again for being a listener of the endless Coffee Cup, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Matt: So what goes into creating statements, because that was part of, I was fascinated with all your planning and like you said, if this happens, then this happens.

But there’s also as a information officer, you or someone has to address media. And so what goes into creating these statements based, and then what you’re doing is, when you create this plan, if this happens you go into it, we say this or how do you develop that when you know that someone has to make a statement?

Christine: So it comes down to organizational values should be assumed that if someone does something wrong or bad, you would hope that as the police, you would not condone such things. So it’s a case of you have to meet the needs of people’s desire for justice and safety and feeling safe and knowing that you’re going to do something about it.

So, accountability, transparency. So that’s where you say well, we have a murder. It’s involving the community. So therefore we need to reassure them if it’s an isolated incident, that they will be safe, that we don’t condone this kind of behavior, that we are doing all we can to find the people.

We need people’s help, so we need to make sure we say that. And so it is this kind of, you have to look at what makes people feel better, hopefully. And it is around safety, honesty, transparency, accountability and you also need to work with them as well. So you can’t expect people to give you information about a crime if they don’t trust you.

Or if you’ve let them down in the past, so it’s that consistency as well. So are you addressing the needs of the audience or the community? That goes a long way. There are certain statements I’ve seen and I just like that doesn’t make me feel any better. You are an idiot, why should I believe you? Your whole unit or force is consistently let us down. So it’s understanding what people think of you and making sure you address them without patronizing and things. So that, it’s art and science and also a bit of intuition as well.

But I don’t think you can craft the perfect statement, but I don’t think you can underestimate what the public think of you, and I think you need to understand them to know what they think. So you can’t just push out you always have to get feedback.

Matt: Absolutely. And I love that you created an apology video the other day, it’s an example. I love that, that was great. So we’re both going to the National Association of Government Communicators Conference in a few weeks and Christine’s been running. So alittle background. Christine actually created some software called the PIO Toolkit which helps communicators, public information officers to gather information, know who’s saying what, and also how to respond.

And she’s been running these toolkits, we’re talking to other communicators. How do they solve problems? How do they do things? So, it’s a great series and I would highly suggest to follow Christine on LinkedIn and get into some of these because it’s a great insight and to both government and private industry communicators and how they deal with crisis.

And a lot of it, unfortunately, I think when you’re working with police, most of it’s crisis, but there’s a lot of spillover into private industry and how private industry handles crisis. It’s probably one of the biggest demand subjects that we’ve been seeing over in the UAE, which is why you just keep coming right back and and talking to a lot of the people there because this is an area and I don’t know, Is it growing this awareness or this desire to be prepared and for crisis communications? We’ve always had crisis, but do you understand what I’m trying to ask? This is one of the few questions I’m like, how do I even ask this?

Christine: There’s a shift in the approach of managing emergencies. There’s difference between emergencies and crises and emergencies are a lot easier to deal with, I think. I think there’s a shift and an acknowledgement that it’s not about just pushing out message anymore. As a society we are so different in a lot of ways cause of technology and what have you and politics and I think the approach is different.

I remember when I first joined policing, it was very much press release. There you go. Do as I say, not as I do. Now there is such a diverse way. There are so many ways in which people consume information now that you have to be everywhere and everything to everyone.

And so, yes I think there is a greater demand to understand how to talk to people, and I think there’s a greater desire to talk to people than they used to be. So community engagement is definitely more of a focus in the states now than when I first arrived here.

Community engagement has always been bigger in the UK simply because of the leasing model is different. So I believe there is and also there’s not a clear delineation between public and private anymore. Because so many public sector roles and functions are carried out by private sector organizations.

So that has changed things and how people work together and deal with crisis. Because quite often one will cause a crisis for the other that they don’t understand. And a really good example of this is airports. In the UK the airports are all private. They’re all privately owned, but of course the issues that can come up will often involve the place.

So understanding that is really important. That’s one of the lesson guide learned in the City of London police is actually partly funded by private sector banking, cause it’s financial crime. So there are real issues there when you are about to, so a perfect airports, privately owned, public issue. Perhaps a pilot is drunk or something.

The police want to make sure made clear that we’ve arrested them. Obviously the airline doesn’t want that cause that affects share prices and things. On a bigger scale, if you think about how stuff like that can affect, so there’s a commercial reason for wanting to keep it quiet. There’s a public reason for not.

So that often causes real challenges internally. So I think that the way communicators that have to approach things as different now, very different. I think do have to be savvy private sector wise, more so. But then I think there is a lack of understanding around the way from private sector perspective of how emergency services deal with things.

So there needs to be more of a hub, I think were people do work together. It used to be that the fire and police would be like opposite ends of town and never talk. And now they put in a hub together and things like that. So again it’s like multi-agency working has also changed things as well. So I’m not sure if I’ve just completely gone around about answering that, cause I dunno the answer, which is a perfect communication skill to help.

Matt: No you answered that. I think because yes, it seems like there’s more of a demand of people wanting to understand crisis communications. And yet I’m like, we’ve always had this around, but like you said, it used to be just the press release. And now people were demanding more. They’re demanding more empathy and accountability.

I look at some of the things that have hit the news over the past few months, and when you have a large corporation issue, an apology. People are dissecting and analyzing what exactly are they apologizing for. And so I’m seeing a lot of that, and like you said, it’s all about now we have so many forms of communication.

Everything anyone says is dissected by the media or even the public in different forums. And now all of a sudden you’ve got a little more of an ebb and flow. That you’ve put out this information, now it’s coming back at you with how people interpreted it. And so I think that is probably affecting now more and more of this, how do we say what we want to say?

Christine: And, sorry to interrupt, I think and the added challenge of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda is something that I’m fascinated by and I’ve always been fascinated by it. And how that has evolved as a weapon. The weaponization of communications is fascinating and that’s its own crisis. And, we talk about accountability. I think the media used to hold us public organizations to account. But actually I don’t think they have the time or resources to do so as much now. So the public are almost circum navigating the media through direct channels.

When I’ve seen things published that you didn’t even read that before that one out. I’m pretty sure you didn’t check those stats. I’m pretty sure you haven’t gone into the issue, and I’m hearing that from a lot of PIOs but the media just aren’t, the newer journalists are just not getting into the story.

They’re literally reprinting, republishing something from a tweet. I can’t bear it when you read a story and like two-thirds of it are tweets from people I don’t care about. The perfect example is obituary type. When someone’s died, it’s like, I’m sure we’re all upset, but I don’t need to read the tweet.

I don’t know, some random but I want the story. I want the information it does, I maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned in that I like a story.

Matt: I’ve seen stories being generated on what I would once have considered a legitimate news site, but all they’re doing is taking a thread from Reddit where something happened to somebody and they’re turning it into a story.

And even when I’ve seen that thread, I’m like, I didn’t care about it there. And now it’s being made into a story with very little sources other than what’s on the Reddit thread. And it’s being published into a semi quasi legitimate news organization.

Christine: So what’s interesting about that is it probably seems shocking because you see it elsewhere. If you think about it, tabloid journalism, from the ages was going into pubs, chatting to someone at a bar, finding something out. I remember, oh, she’s been terrible really being like 15 or 16, working with a journalist at the local newspaper, and she’s like well come on. We’ll go in the pub, see what’s going on, and literally taking me around the pub.

To just get an ear out for what’s been going on, right? And then her going, all right, okay. That’s brilliant, and that’s a tip. So really playing devil’s advocate, is Reddit or similar, just a newer form of tips that just has lazily been converted into a

Matt: story.

Yeah, but that’s a thing. Going into a pub and talking to people takes skill. It takes skill to talk to people to get that information out and well skill or just standing back and waiting until they’ve drank enough that they’ll. But there is an ability. You’ve gotta know what you’re looking for and what makes good context. This, I feel like it’s very lazy.

Christine: It seems to be all or nothing. You look at some of the stuff that comes from the New Yorker and it’s like, God, I can’t carry on reading. It’s just so long. It’s just, it’s so involved and it’s like the sweet spot of that was a good story.

I got something from that has seems to have gone. It’s either, you get to the end of like oh, is that it? Or you’re like, Ugh, way too much. No wonder, too long didn’t read, has come in. Even in, I write but I struggle to write anything of length simply because I was a trained tabloid journalist.

And actually people scoff at tabloid journalism, but it’s actually harder. People don’t understand how it can be harder, but it is harder to write tabloid news. The way it was joyful to see the journalists write at The Sun. It was fun. It was wordplay, alliteration, just this fantastic way of just bringing a story to life to me was fascinating.

And even now, I just love writing in that way and being quick with words. And I thought, I love that I love any sense of like language that you understand, you know enough to be able to write to that level, which the reading age of tabloid is six or seven. Whereas something like the Sunday times is 16, so that’s the level at which you can no longer read to a high level.

But to write to something that is not natural the way you’ve learned to is actually harder, I think. Writing headlines, that was fantastic. I would sit in the room with the sub editors and they’d just come up with these amazing headlines.

Matt: There, is that master’s skill class?

Yeah, definitely. In traditional newsrooms that I think it’s been lost to a great degree. And I think that’s one thing, here in the US we’ve lost so many journalists over the past few decades. And it’s been noticeable in the quality of news and the information.

And I think that gets to your point now that, people are, they’re sending their communications out to the public directly bypassing the media, bypassing, you know we heard it as well. People were complaining that the media we do talk to, they have agenda. And no matter what we say, they’re trying to fit it to a narrative that they have.

And so being able to develop a communication that we can take directly to people through channels where people can see exactly what was said and our sources. I think that is part of why the demand is increasing that much. We’re the media itself has become, a separate channel.

Christine: And I think it’s important for agencies particularly to be their own news room. Make their own literally. I mean we used to do it, we used to have a TV studio and we got rid of it In the police. And that’s what I was fascinated by when I went to Dubai actually, is when I went to the police headquarters. They do have their own newsroom. They do manage everything themselves, which I was just like gobsmack the resources they had.

I was jealous as well, cause I wanted to get back into it. I was like, oh, what I wouldn’t give. But the agencies need to really not rely on just putting it out there. I’m confused about how many PIOs here have never had any experience of being a PIO and they’re just told to do it.

Its whole profession. I don’t think in any country being a press officer or media person gets the credit it deserves as its own standalone career. It’s rare that you would have someone at, you know comes director on a command team or board, that to me is absolutely central to the success of an agency that you have a experience and professional and skillful comms person, not just someone who does it as a part-time role while handing FOI requests, or is also the dog handler.

It just seems crazy to me. It diminishes the role and the work that goes into it because its not just a job. It takes its toll. You get ptsd, you have that emotional attachment to it. It’s not just a job. And I’m so passionate about that side of it as well, promoting the wellbeing of PIOs and those who work in government communication cause I’ve seen so many people get very sick from it because they’re not supported.

And when you consider the fact that you have to be a good communicator, you have to understand the facts. You have to know that’s going on. And to do that sometimes means reading and seeing things that are horrific.

You can’t support a campaign around domestic abuse without understanding the issues. You can’t do anything about human trafficking, you don’t understand it. So for me, the two things I’ve always done is ask too many questions. Ask why all the time why why why? I used to irritate my father.

I remember that you asked too many questions, never enough, and I asked, don’t ask enough now. And the other one was, I probably immerse myself too muchsometimes. And I take on that sense. I need to understand so I need to know how it feels and I do, I feel it. And that is a double edged sword.

Matt: Yeah. That’s definitely part of that empathy that you want to have. But then also, and I remember our com surgery call when you know that I was a part of and one of your other guests she was called out for one of the school shooting. And I think she said it was 72 hours of almost a sleepless 72 hours in order to find out all of the information what happened?

Where and being exposed to that horror of everything that happened. But then also, what’s the story? What all happened? And from an official standpoint, gathering all that information in a very short amount of time. And yeah, she talked about the emotional toll that goes on, but also you’re getting that emotional toll at the same time you’re getting a physical toll because it’s a very short amount of time you have to get this done.

The amount of pressure and that led into, how do you handle that? What’s your outlet? How do you, because you’ve gotta process all of this now. And you don’t want to, I think you don’t want to become cold to things like that.

Christine: No, so adrenaline is addictive as well. So that’s why, I joked about, oh, I wish something had happened because actually. There’s not a police press officer in that I know that doesn’t want the big story, that doesn’t want to put their skills to the test. And you would sit around and say well what could happen? We don’t have a loss of life.

That’s still exciting enough. Is this terrible really? But the adrenaline keeps you going and doesn’t let the emotion through because you are on fumes. You’re going on fumes and then you get to the end of it and you can’t just, wind down. And then, I think the thing is then you have that post-incident lump.

Yeah. Of like oh, now what do I do now? What am I good for? Doing a campaign on not getting your wallet pinched is boring by comparison. It’s just as important. So it is a bit of a vicious cycle at times. And that’s where you do that preparation as well, because you’re saying about going out and gathering information.

Yes, of course you will always have to do that. But then if you’ve already got some in the back pocket about certain things that you know you’ll have to answer, then that helps with that. But you still have a sense of, okay, I have to do this, I can do it, and I do it. And the number of times I’ve sat

in a toilet cubicle and cried. And then gone back in and been like, come on, we’ve got to do this cause there’s no option than getting it done. Just that’s the end of it, so you do, and then look at that. And what I find interesting is that there are cases that I worked on in years ago, for whatever reason they’re resurfacing the news, whether it’s the person’s being released or if something’s come up where it’s whatever and then I’ll see it and it just straight back.

I’ll see it in the BBC primarily, and it takes us straight back or someone that we knew has now been arrested. With everything that’s going on in the UK at the moment it’s tough times cause you know, there’s a lot resurfacing that, it’s always there. It’ll always be there. But I am now starting to make sense of it by going out and supporting others.

And what’s been wonderful about setting up PIO toolkit is that I have people who come to me randomly. I’ve always said, contact me if you need anything. And I will get calls, or I’ll get emails from people saying, I’ve got a bit of a problem. But can I just talk it through with you? And it’s usually around politics, relationships, in the in work or how people being perceived or, just talking people off ledgers sometimes. And so with that I’m starting to expand more what I do around supporting other PIOs. And I hope to have some sort of formal PIO support group set up. They have them for police. That’s what I want to do, to use. I’ve had breakdowns, I’ve had issues, and now I feel like I’m in a place where I can relinquish some of that and help others because really, I say this in everywhere I go, same problems, different accent.

Matt: Exactly. Christine you have brought us to a great conclusion here because if people want to get in touch with you, if they want to learn more about PIO toolkit, how can they do that?

Christine: Go to my website Find me on LinkedIn Christine Townsend. I’m the one with the goofy photo and I won’t give out my phone number on this, but no, you can always contact me through LinkedIn. So, I am open to talk to anyone. I love learning from people. Any opportunity I get to understand how other people work and what they do. America has been an amazing lesson. A series of lessons for me.

Matt: I imagine so.

Christine: So yeah. Please just get in touch.

Matt: And I am so pleased that you are being asked to consult in so many different places around the world with police departments with agencies just amazing to me because I think more and more your pleasant demeanor is welcome and would be a wonderful influence into, the world of modern policing and media.

So, Christine this has been wonderful. Great to catch up with you. I always look forward to talking with you.

Christine: Thank you. No, I really, I love talking to you and I’m so glad we met in such a strange way, that’s that universe again. So yeah. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Matt: Absolutely. So dear listener, please take advantage of that follow Christine on LinkedIn. And if you are in any public information capacity, I highly recommend that you check out Hot PIO toolkit. I think you may find it an excellent resource in your work. So dear listener, thanks again for tuning in to another episode of The Endless Coffee Cup, and I hope to have another cup of coffee with you soon on the next episode.

Outro VO: You’ve been listening to the Endless Coffee Cup. If you enjoyed this episode, share it with somebody. And of course, please take just a moment and rate or review us at your favorite podcast service. If you need more information, contact Thanks again for being such a great listener.

Endless Coffee Cup podcast

Featured Guest:

Christine Townsend

Christine Townsend

Christine Townsend, PIO Toolkit founder and Policing Insight Editorial Development USA/Caribbean

PIO Toolkit

Connect with Christine on LinkedIn:

Digital Marketing Training Courses

Learn @ SiteLogic