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WMATA spokesman Dan Stessel is in search of a communications deputy

November 16, 2011 - 10:08 AM
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(Photo: flickr/chrisdag)

Our favorite local transit agency continues to march forward with track work, semi-consistent service, and that most intangible of developments — a renewed communications initiative. 

We've talked about advances with social media and with the 15-year-old Metro website. WMATA has hired multiple staff members to help make the agency more transparent and show a little more personality, a way to soothe riders amid all the Capital Improvement Project track work that'll be continuing for the next several years. Highly visible in the media was the hiring of WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel in early summer and social media manager Brian Anderson in late summer, all part of the broader efforts to develop a visible Twitter, Facebook, and engagement strategy across the board. The change was so notable that the Washington City Paper devoted an entire cover story to Stessel's first months.

And now there's a job posting out there for a deputy spokesperson, another on-the-record face of Metro. The job was posted yesterday on the networking service LinkedIn. The posting contains a whole lot of words about what being a WMATA communications deputy is like and what the job requires. Here's a sampling from the posting:

The incumbent is responsible for assisting with the management of activities for the Office of Media Relations. Serves as deputy chief spokesperson for the Authority and manages Metro¿s media relations efforts with traditional media (TV, radio, print, online) and key external agencies. Assumes Director¿s responsibilities when necessary. This is highly responsible professional and administrative work. Significant writing is required, as is the ability to provide professional, on camera and on-the-record comments on behalf of the agency.

MAJOR DUTIES: Manages the day-to-day operations of the media relations department (commonly known as the press office). Supervises public information officers.

Serves as deputy chief spokesperson for the Authority on a variety of issues affecting WMATA and the communities served. The incumbent deals with print and broadcast media on a day-to-day basis, responding to inquiries and generating information pertaining to the Authority, including local, regional and national media outlets.

The Manager, Media Relations & Deputy Chief Spokesperson is an official Authority spokesperson. This includes 24-hour on-call duty to provide support during service disruptions or emergencies, and to respond to media inquiries concerning Authority policies, business matters, and service issues outside normal business hours, including weekends and holidays.

Advises and prepares the General Manager, Executive Leadership Team, Directors, and subject-matter experts for interviews with reporters and arranges such interviews.

Candidates must have at least seven years of experience, know "how the media, both print and electronic, function in the Washington Metropolitan Area, the differing needs and philosophies of the region," and be willing to work "variable hours," among many other requirements.

Think about how difficult the job must be. As much heat falls on WMATA (justifiably or not), the job of communicating the agency's news and explaining all its work and managing the tempers of the system's riders always struck me as a tough challenge. When Anderson was hired, he referred to the "passion" of riders and welcomed it. That's the appropriate PR response, I suppose.  But I would imagine these jobs require, on a personal level, an extraordinary capacity to brush negativity off and continue articulating the substance as well as acknowledging the faults of what they deal with as part of a strained, emotion-inspiring transportation network more than three decades old. Multitasking must be an understatement given all the coordination involved. So far I've been satisfied with Metro's communications in the last few months despite the need for improvement in some areas. They did rather successfully survive both an earthquake and Irene hitting in one week in late summer ... although the suicide at Clarendon this fall left more than a little frustration.

Stessel has been incredibly hands-on with the different components of Metro's communications strategy so far in my experience, from updating the website's visuals to frequently updating the Metro Twitter account to handling the lion's share of reporter interviews. With Metro's addition of Anderson in late summer and now a deputy spokesperson in the coming months, I suspect Stessel's goal is to outsource some of the day-to-day work with the hope of focusing on broader communications vision and really managing and unifying the Metro communications vision. It's not a bad communications strategy ... although I will say I'm impressed with how much money WMATA is throwing at this department in this year alone. The transit agency clearly is invested, quite literally. It spent close to $40,000 upgrading the communications offices this year, after all.

Metro is also hiring a "special agent," I notice, tasked with ferreting out employee misconduct and fraud. Ominous name but a potentially wise hire.

Apply for the communications job at LinkedIn here and hat tip to Unsuck D.C. Metro for briefly alluding to the WMATA job posting.

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