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On the Case With…

Each month, as part of “The Business Case for Public Relations,” PRSA asks an industry leader to reflect on his or her career and make a “business case” for public relations.

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On the Case With Chris Vaccaro

April 1, 2015

Chris Vaccaro
Chris Vaccaro

Chris Vaccaro is the director of public affairs for NOAA’s National Weather Service, where he leads the development of strategic media-focused communication activities for the agency and serves as its primary spokesperson.

In this role, he supports the mission of protecting lives and property by working with and through the news media to get important information to the public, and serves a press secretary to the director of the National Weather Service. The office also promotes science literacy and government transparency by promoting agency initiatives and ensuring that the information is easy to access and understand.

Previously, Vaccaro held other NOAA communication positions, working on issues regarding climate change, satellites, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and topics related to the ocean and atmosphere. He was also assistant weather editor at USA Today, where he developed exclusive weather and environment-related news content for the print, online and broadcast units.

A native of Long Island, N.Y., he graduated from Nassau Community College with an associate’s in physical science, received a bachelor’s with concentrations in meteorology and social science from Lyndon State College, and earned a master’s in communications from the University of Oklahoma.

“My core belief in the importance of the National Weather Service mission is what motivates my interest in the public affairs work I do here,” he says. “I’ll never take for granted the public’s sacred trust in NOAA’s National Weather Service to be there when it matters most and remain the honest broker of science-based facts in what can sometimes become a noisy sea of information.”

Name: Chris Vaccaro

Childhood ambition: A journalist and a television meteorologist — I enjoyed writing and was always fascinated by the weather. I was drawn to how relevant broadcast meteorology was in people’s daily lives.

Current livelihood: Director of NOAA communications and external affairs at the National Weather Service

What changed: As a reporter, I worked with federal public affairs professionals. They were accomplishing great work for an even greater cause. Joining NOAA was a natural fit for me, and it has diversified my portfolio of work while allowing me to apply my communications skill set in a completely new way.

First public relations job: Public affairs specialist at NOAA’s National Weather Service — I joined in the midst of the hurricane onslaught on Florida in 2004, which was soon followed by the press crush stemming from the Indonesian tsunami. I’ve also worked on issues regarding climate change, satellites, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and other topics related to the ocean and atmosphere.

What you know now that you wish you’d known then: Knowing what busy days mean — you think you know, until a tsunami strikes or a tornado targets a populated area. But I thrive on this rush and take the need to aggressively communicate the agency's important forecast information seriously.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received: “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll get is all you ever got.” I’m a big proponent of shaking things up and not getting stuck in a routine pattern. I’m constantly looking for new approaches and ideas to build on past achievements. My goal is not to follow what worked in the past, but to pave a new path toward bigger and better results. I also understand that rules of the game can change, so what worked before may not work the second time around. Flexibility and creativity are important personal attributes in this profession.

Greatest professional accomplishment: I’ll never take for granted the public’s sacred trust in the National Weather Service to be there when it matters most and remain the honest broker of science-based facts in what can sometimes become a noisy sea of information. I’ve developed and managed dozens of communication strategies for natural disasters and high-impact weather events, many of which were extremely destructive and heartbreaking. I’m especially proud of the sustained and aggressive communication and media blitz I designed and carried out in advance of the unique and multifaceted Hurricane Sandy.

If you weren’t in public relations, you would be: A psychologist — although some might say I’m dabbling in that now.

Desired legacy: Increasing the visibility of NOAA’s National Weather Service in communicating its vital forecasting information, but doing so in a clear, calm and trusted voice to maintain public confidence.

Make a “business case” for public relations: A solid PR program is the key to any organization’s success. Public relations should have a seat at the leadership table in every aspect of planning and operations. PR professionals can counsel organizational leaders on how strategic decisions could impact everything from constituent/customer/employee relations and sales to reputation. We help organizations become more effective by managing crises through advanced preparedness, but working daily to avoid them. Ultimately, our value is in building solid relationships and trust by facilitating exceptional communications, both internal and external to the organization.


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