A Message in a Bottle From PIO Island

by Craig Petinak
San Bernardino Valley College
San Bernardino, CA

If you’ve ever held a staff meeting in the mirror or conducted an impromptu department sing-along on the way to work, you’re likely living on what I like to call “PIO Island,” better known as a one-person communications department.

After attending my first NCMPR national conference this year, I was in awe of the resources and staff rosters within the communications departments at many technical and community colleges across North America. But the moments I cherished the most were those spent with people like myself – those from college marketing offices comprised entirely of the talents, abilities, perseverance and creativity of one individual.

If you’re among this group, you may not list your professional zip code as an island inhabitant, but like me, you may feel as though you’re marooned. Sure, life on PIO Island has benefits, but it provides professional challenges that require equal parts elbow grease and intellectual fortitude.

I’m regularly reminded by my fellow administrators at San Bernardino Valley College that I don’t face the challenges of managing employees, but it’s of little solace when I’m schlepping boxes between the storage closet and the trunk of my car before and after every special event. On a daily basis, we’re forced to become single riders on the roller coaster of professional agility, sliding up and down the continuum of tactical to strategic from stuffing folders and cropping pictures to consulting with the president on strategic planning.

So how does a one-person army deal with the cacophony of requests that jump off the pages of our to-do lists? Based on my experiences surviving (and occasionally thriving) on PIO Island for four-plus years, here are a few messages in a bottle to provide some sustenance to fellow island dwellers:

Prioritize By Impact
Accomplishing your to-do list on any given day is about as likely as winning the lottery. With that reality presenting itself anew each and every morning, it’s important to decide what should take priority. Since recent research has found that multitasking may not be the panacea for professional efficiency as was initially thought, make sure that your most cherished resource – time – is spent on the most impactful activities. Yes, you could spend hours constructing the Taj Mahal of searchable photo databases on the network, but your time may be better spent brainstorming strategic editorial angles for next month’s community newsletter. Intentionally devoting time in advance of a critical, high-profile project will serve you well when the urgency of the moment arrives.

Tap Into Intern Opportunities
Connecting with specific faculty members who “get” your position can turn them into talent agents on your behalf. Thanks to the critical eye of art and English professors on my campus, I’ve been able to extend my departmental reach with capable student photographers and feature writers. Sure, interns need coaching, but motivated students are in desperate need of portfolio experience and the promise of a strong reference letter. Frankly, I’ve found that photos taken by students are often better than mine; several have graced the covers of our schedules and catalogs. Reaching out to upper-level students at the local four-year universities is also a good source for free or affordable help.

Automate for Self-Service
Technology can be harnessed to serve as an unofficial member of your department, and by making it a virtual employee, you can save valuable time. Somebody on campus needs to make changes to their Web page? Send them to the online menu of self-serve how-to videos. They need a logo for their event flyer? Send them to the logo/image gallery. They need to add their event to the master calendar? Set up a Web page where they enter the details and you approve the submission before it goes live. Training your campus to use many of these tech tools can free your time to focus on bigger projects like making sure that the branding and logo usage guidebook is ironclad.

Above all else, don’t bury your head in the sand waiting for staff and resources to fall out of the sky. Instead, seize the opportunity to have an impact that makes waves across campus. By recognizing that the ebb and flow of the professional tides requires you to make the most of the resources available, you’ll continue to reinforce your role on campus as a communications expert – not some forgotten castaway.

Craig Petinak is director of marketing and public relations at San Bernardino Valley College in San Bernardino, California.


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