June 3, 2013
Scott Gediman is the assistant superintendent for public & legislative affairs at Yosemite National Park. He manages all of the park’s media relations, legislative affairs, special events and dignitary visits. He has been in this position since 1996 and is a 23-year veteran of the National Park Service (NPS).
Gediman grew up in North Hollywood, Calif., and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism/public relations from San Diego State University. He and his wife Bethany, who is also a former National Park Ranger, live in the park with their two children.
Many visitors will descend on the park this summer, as all areas of the park will be accessible then, the weather will be warm and the wildflowers will be in bloom. Last year, Yosemite received 4 million visitors.
Have you always been interested in nature and the outdoors?
My family vacationed in Yosemite every year while I was growing up. I loved it and started backpacking while in junior high school. I’ve always loved the outdoors. I started with the National Park Service at Glen Canyon NRA in 1988 and transferred to Yosemite in 1996. Jobs in parks are competitive and I was thrilled to be selected for my position in Yosemite.
How did you get your start in public relations/communications?
I studied journalism and public relations at San Diego State University and interned at both a PR agency and the California State Park System (Torrey Pines State Reserve). I’ve always strived to combine working in the outdoors with public relations, and I’m doing it!
What does your role at Yosemite entail? And how do you juggle being a park ranger and a public affairs person?
As a National Park Ranger, I’m involved in day-to-day park operations and serve on the park’s management team.
I also serve as the park spokesman and handle media relations, work with political delegations, plan special events and meet with international delegations. In my role with the media, I must accurately represent the park and the NPS.
What are some challenges you face in your day-to-day job?
Yosemite National Park receives about 4 million visitors per year and it is always busy, especially in the summer. I may have a shoot scheduled with a television crew, and then, a complex search and rescue operation unfolds that attracts huge media attention.
Over the years, we’ve dealt with fires, floods, rockslides, murders and multiple fatalities. We always need to be ready to speak for the park, and a large incident can result in conducting more than 100 interviews in a day!
How can leaders best inspire and connect employees today?
Leaders should lead by example. A leader who exercises good judgment, common sense, fairness and kindness is extremely inspiring. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great leaders.
How do social media platforms and community help Yosemite communicate its messages?
Yosemite is an iconic national park loved by people worldwide. In addition to the park’s official Facebook page and Twitter feed, there are hundreds of Facebook groups, blogs and people sharing images of the park. It helps inform the public not just of the beauty of Yosemite, but also of the changing conditions and current events in the park.
Why is the PR function important for Yosemite?
Yosemite has been referred to as a “bellwether” park of the National Park Service. The park receives heavy media attention and the park’s messages (on incidents, budget situations, management practices) reflect not only Yosemite, but also the parks across the country. This makes the park’s PR messages extremely important and impactful to [all] national parks. (There are now over 400 units in the National Park System.)
What advice do you have for someone hoping to work as a spokesperson or for the NPS in an uncontrolled environment?
The best advice I’d give is to be prepared for anything! National Parks, by their definition, are wild places. On any given day, we may have an incident with a bear, a search and rescue, and a big medical emergency — all at the same time.
What do you think are the basic tenets of a crisis communications plan?
One must have carefully crafted messages ready to deliver, be firm, and be consistent. This is critical in ensuring accurate coverage during a crisis.
What tips do you have for managing a crisis in today’s 24/7 world and disseminating breaking news? How has the media changed through the years?
News updates should be disseminated in a timely manner. However, it is critical that the information is accurate and up-to-date.
As the media becomes real-time, I’m finding that journalists are not checking their sources thoroughly, or not checking them at all. I feel that it is an agency’s responsibility to communicate the official story so that media reports reflect the facts, and not just what others are reporting.
What trends do you see with leadership styles, tools or programs to engage people?
I find that engagement tends to be less personal [online], and thus less effective. I think that person-to-person communication is still the best way to engage people. No technology can replace human interaction.
What advice do you have for new professionals looking to accelerate their career?
My advice has always been to “follow your heart” and do what you love. I’m fortunate that my career reflects my personal and professional interests, and it makes me that much more effective and the job a lot more fun. There isn’t a substitute for passion, and the news media can see that in an instant.
Favorite part of Yosemite?
The park’s backcountry, especially the high mountain lakes
Any three dinner guests, past or present?
Bill Clinton, Edward Abbey and Abraham Lincoln
Best place to travel?
Washington, D.C. always has great things to see!
“Lonely Are the Brave”
Managing Editor Amy Jacques interviewed Scott Gediman for this month’s member profile.