City of Santa Barbara logoThe hotel desk clerk became my hero that day. During the January storms I worked our emergency operations center getting vital communication out to the community. The freeways were closed and many commuters, (like me) were stuck in Santa Barbara, competing with evacuees to find hotel rooms that were mostly sold out.  

I was hungry, cold, sleep-deprived and exhausted physically and mentally from work and worry about my kids at home alone. Some hotels took advantage of the situation with price gouging. I dealt with some desk clerks that lacked empathy. 

One of the things that kept me going was the gym bag I keep in my car with all the things I need to keep me comfortable. During the long shifts, I was able to change into fresh clothes and keep my energy levels up with some protein-packed snacks. 

Eventually, I found a room. The desk clerk smiled casually and asked me if I was displaced because of the storm and offered a discounted room rate. Then, as I turned to check into my room he said those magical words, “Would you like a glass of wine to take with you?” My eyes welled with tears as I nodded aggressively and replied, “Yes, I would very much like a glass of wine.” And just like that my faith in humanity was restored. 

The desk clerk may have been my hero that day, but my preparedness kept me moving forward during the height of the storms.

As a public information officer, sometimes you find yourself having to perform in unexpected situations. Here are eight ways to make sure you are always at the ready and looking forward to the next project. 

  • Keep an overnight bag in your car 

Whether you are stuck in a storm or just a meeting that seems like it’s never going to end, a small bag with the essentials will give you a chance to freshen up and make it to the finish line. A fresh shirt, a pair of athletic shoes, a toothbrush, and some wet wipes can make a difference in your alertness. 

  • Keep a list of talking points with you

You never know when you are going to run into a reporter at the grocery store or local coffee shop. Remember, even when you aren’t in an “official” interview, anything you say to a reporter can be used. Keep a short list of talking points on the more sensitive issues you are handling and only stick to those if caught off guard.

  • Self-evaluate 

After a big campaign you should always evaluate what worked and what didn’t, but you should also evaluate yourself personally. What could you have done or said differently? Could you have been more forward-thinking? Assertive? Prepared? How can you apply that assessment to how you approach your next campaign?

  • Carry a recorder

It seems like executives like to approach you with information when you least expect it—like walking down the hallway. A small recorder easily fits in a pocket or purse and comes in clutch when you need to remember important details later. Better yet, use the recording app on your phone. 

  • Keep snacks on hand

Whether you get “hangry” – hungry and angry, or “hassy” – hungry and sassy, you probably recognize that’s not a good look for you. Hunger can sneak up on you and change your mood without you noticing. Keep small snacks stashed in your desk, car, or office for a quick boost. 

  • Carry a water bottle

I heard someone call it a “Support Water Bottle” and I felt seen. I carry a water bottle with me everywhere I go. Dehydration can affect you just like hunger. Keep your energy levels up by staying hydrated.

  • Cultivate a support system

Reach out to other PIOs or get involved in PIO or communications professionals groups. It helps to ask questions, run ideas by one another, or just rant to someone who understands what you are experiencing.

  • Schedule time for self-care

If it’s not on my calendar then it doesn’t happen, so I schedule in time to take care of me. It doesn’t have to be bubble baths or meditation. Maybe it’s a simple outside walk to clear your mind or splurging on dessert every Thursday at dinner. A little time for whatever helps you feel comforted, rejuvenated, and relaxed should be on the calendar each week. 

Maybe you can’t predict the next public information crisis, but at least you can be confident, clear-headed, and well-rested when you do have to respond to one. Keep looking forward by being prepared today. 


Shelly Cone is a public relations and communications professional on California’s Central Coast. A former journalist with an affinity for caffeine, her 15 years in public relations hasn’t dampened her coffee habit. Contact her at