September 30, 2013
In the days after WikiLeaks and the NSA scandals, a lot of attention has been drawn to the importance of open records in society and the news industry. It is inarguable that people have the right to know information, but what people have the right to know is a heated debate. Even before these issues were revealed, government leaders began initiatives for open government and transparency.
Along with nonprofits like the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, Washington has tried to give people the resources they need to understand open records and the Freedom of Information Act. This Act, with state policies such as the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act, ensure that people have the right to view public information.
Open records are essentially information that is rightfully available to the public. Sometimes, the information is included in massive datasets readily available on government websites or websites like Government Attic. If datasets are not available, or you need more specific information, you can always file a FOIA request.
But a lot of people still don’t understand what open records are and how valuable they can be- including the PR professional. The Freedom of Information Act allows for requesting of public information for commercial purposes.
One way to use open records in public relations is to find out what is happening within your industry. This website has endless documents already available within industry-specific communities. Here, you can download datasets on virtually any topic. This information could be crucial in planning your next campaign, even if you have to find someone to tell you what it all means.
Another way you can use open records in public relations is to file a FOIA to retrieve all FOIAs on your company, competitors or industry. Knowing what people are requesting about your company can alert you to potential crises you might have to manage. It can help you anticipate problems within your company that you may have been unaware of.
Finding open information on your competitors can also help you market your company better, and should always be used when conducting research for a PR campaign. It can also help with creating corporate strategy by knowing what your competitors are doing.
One thing that I would like to see done more, is having companies file all public documents on their own website in an easy to find tab in their newsroom. This makes it easier for journalists you want to share information with because they can see your transparency and your willingness to make their life easier.
I hope you take this post into consideration and research more on public information and the Freedom of Information Act. It’s not just good practice, it’s being a good employee and a good citizen.
Let me know what you think in the comments below, and please share this article with your friends on Twitter and Facebook.