PR jobs of the future

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Thinking about the recent conversation regarding the merits or otherwise of studying public relations, I am reminded of Karl Fisch’s statement in his fascinating Shift Happens presentation (now available at The Fischbowl as a pdf or word file) that: “We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet”.

What should we be doing in PR to prepare for this unpredictable future?   recently speculated about the requirements for future PR practitioners in his

“…the ideal candidates to help grow the public relations agency of the future will possess rare and perhaps even contradictory qualities.

For example, it should be clear that anyone dealing with the blogosphere should be blessed with exceptionally good judgment, since any lapse is likely to carry severe penalties. Such judgment typically comes with age and experience, which suggests that firms will need more senior people and will need those senior people to be more actively engaged with the media.

But at the same time, the blogosphere is a young medium—and this is an generalization that may be unfair to some senior practitioners—best understood by younger professionals. So firms will need to find either young people with exceptional judgment and wisdom beyond their years, or senior people with tremendous enthusiasm for the new and exciting.”

How do these contradictory qualities relate to the ability to deal with ambiguity that Anne Gregory and Toni Muzi Falconi recently argued is at the heart of requirements for modern PR practitioners?

Many of the skills that are part of the DNA of public relations will continue to be vital; such as effective communications, building relationships, creative problem solving, and managing risk and crises.  Indeed, such capabilities will be even more widely sought (which Holmes also recognised).

The question about PR jobs of the future applies not only to the individuals who will be forging new careers, but to employers as well.  Are they taking up the challenge – will we see smaller marketing departments and larger PR ones as traditional promotional tools decline in effectiveness?  Or will new functions emerge – and if so, what might these be?  Anyone for the “boundary-spanning” department?

Of course, we can only speculate about what the future will bring – but, if nothing else, we should be inspiring young practitioners to forge new paths.  They should not be content with their current jobs – whether as PR technicians or managers – but look for ways to create innovative roles.  It is not about using education and training to be better at what you are doing today, but having the vision to be a PR pioneer.

We hear a lot from older PR practitioners about how they honed their craft without the benefit of training courses and higher education qualifications.  That’s true.  Ironically, we are now teaching principles and practice based on their ground breaking work – they gave us a history and “best practice” models.  We shouldn’t forget this, but it isn’t enough. 

Already we can see  PR practitioners need new principles and practices.  I believe today’s students, practitioners and academics should be as pioneering as our predecessors – challenging the theories and ways of working that have become the norm.  That applies equally to those who champion learning in the workplace as those who advocate the benefits of academic studies.

The way in which we practice PR needs to be confronted as much as the way in which we think about underlying principles.

In my own area of automotive public relations, the tradition has been much more about refining and improving our modus operandi, particularly in areas such as launching new vehicles.  It is almost a formula, a recipe for a successful product launch.  There might be variations in implementation, but the basic approach has changed little over the last 40 years. 

When Bob Sicot “invented” the format in the late 1950s for Renault, he was a pioneer.  Foreign travel was exotic and part of the narrative.  Car launches made front page news.  Every new car was an innovator; safer, faster, bigger, better. 

Many of the jobs in automotive PR still focus on specialist media relations; primarily supporting marketing efforts to promote new models.   Of course, there are strategic roles and functions focusing on government relations, internal communications, corporate social responsibility and so on.  But the heart of the automotive PR department has changed little in decades.

I have developed a model that challenges the status quo, which I will discuss in another post shortly.  Within the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) we are also developing a career framework that will underpin our future training initiatives.  It will be vital to look ahead with this and not just focus on improving current competencies.

We also cannot simply look the requirements for existing job functions as already we are seeing new opportunities – without obvious candidates to fill them.  For example, BMW UK is the first in the UK automotive industry to appoint a new media public relations manager.  Finding the right candidate will be a challenge with the ideal combination of strategic corporate abilities, a passion for automotive matters and proven experience in new media.

One of the strengths of public relations has been its adaptability to new trends and opportunities.  We have accumulated some wisdom, plus many bad habits, along the way.   So surely, PR of all disciplines should be preparing practitioners for the career challenges ahead.  The question is, are we?

11 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Heather

    Almost a year ago this topic was a component of the discussion that first tempted me to rather nervously post a comment on what was then Toni’s blog then, in April, Judy’s post on exploring the role of public relations in social media sparked a development of the discussion, so I will endeavour not to repeat myself but to add this.

    A few years ago, during one of my sessions on social media (although it wasn’t called social media then), I played the delegates a podcast that my middle son (then 11) had constructed, along with one my youngest (then eight) had had a crack at. I used them as examples to illustrate the fact that by the time these boys had reached maturity, they would have been collaborating, creating content and communities as a natural part of their activities for the best part of ten years. Their thinking and application of the still dubbed ‘new’ tools comes from a very different perspective and a very different type of literacy (orality?) They don’t consider the ‘how’, but look instead at the ‘what’. And all their mates do the same. Multiply my boys by a few million and that’s the ‘seeded’ generation, bustling away in the many education systems where children have the benefit of such access. (That said, I am forever mindful of the need to advocate for those who do not have access or benefit to either enabling or disruptive technologies (and food and water) to ensure those communities are not ignored or omitted).

    When the boys do head out to earn a crust, the focus will be very much on the ‘what’ – as in ‘what exactly am I doing here’? This leads me to suggest that the discernment of public relations jobs of the future is absolutely intertwined with the need for a global recognition – and communication – of purpose – and the vision to which you so rightly refer, flipping us neatly back to your last post on ‘What is PR’. We must also scrutinise the economic models we have adhered to for so long – models that were created to facilitate a different time, and, although it is still the same planet, quite a different place. Economic, educational and social models are changing – and being re-defined – at an exponential rate and the practitioner needs to be able to deal with the ‘now’ as well as getting ahead to the ‘then’. Business and organisational activity based on transparency, sustainability, trust and effective action. Being able to operate with both intangible and tangible assets. The difference (or ambiguity?) between meeting need and promoting desire.

    The major snag with all this is our in-built human ambiguity concerning change. We resist it constantly even though it flavours our days. Inevitably then, any new models (you mention you are developing one, I have one I regularly bang people over the head with, and, I suspect, there are several hundred more on the horizon) may face a difficult birth and a troubled childhood because they will undoubtedly shake people out of their comfortable 20th century ‘public relations’ armchairs and make us all look at things in a different way through many lenses. The danger ahead lurks among the entrenched armchair lobby – and I am talking serious couch potatoes here – equipped with an ability to squish new thinking, new practice, new teaching and approaches under their very big cushions of resistance, leading to the eventual suffocation of our profession.

    If (neighed the one-trick pony) it is agreed that public relations is about building relationships, then the education and training required to underpin that purpose is pretty straightforward. Notwithstanding all the twaddle on the Princeton Review site, a public relations degree should be properly constructed with that purpose in mind. It should include aspects of anthropology, economics, knowledge management, organisational behaviour, psychology, linguistics, semiotics and philosophy. All this nonsense about hiding it in the marketing division or closeting it with creative arts or as a journalism side line needs to stop. On top of the theory there should be a rigorous practical element – from mo-blogging to letter-writing and all that lies between and beyond. Academic researchers should be second-guessing the next developments prompted by practitioner observation (I know what’s next – do you?) and slapping them into the courses quicker than you can say ‘upload that’. Once graduated, there should be properly supervised internships, a ‘practice’ certification, then APR or agreed global equivalent, followed by a challenging continuing professional development programme, mandatory if people want to keep their licence (Disclosure: Yes, I am an open user of the ‘L’ word. I am also at the point where I shall start to spit feathers if globally we fail to get off the fence and do something practical on this – at least then we could sort out who really is a public relations practitioner and who isn’t). Practitioners have to be life-long learners and our education should be demanding, exhausting and enriching for the sake of the publics we serve.

    But I worry that none of this will happen anytime soon – not because the will to do so isn’t there, but because the vision and purpose is not sufficiently well drawn. So I’ll answer your question with another one.

    If one of the fundamentals of a relationship is based on the actions we undertake and then communicate, if we then fail as a profession to get out of our squadgy old armchair, walk that elephant, and take the necessary action required to establish and communicate what it is we actually do – who is going to want a job in public relations anyway? First step I’d say is draw the line in the sand.

    What do you think? Or have I just had a bad day?

  2. Catherine,

    Thank you – definitely not a bad day comment. I agree with you entirely that today’s children (digital natives) will bring a new perspective and approach to communications in the next decade. Although I’m not seeing this passion yet in current undergraduates, who seem to be as much digital immigrants as the rest of us.

    If we don’t do as you recommend and prepare now – PR may not survive the tsunami (or charging elephant?) coming the way, now and then, of the comfie crowd, who are in denial about the opportunities and impact on the profession.

    I feel we also need to be learning and teaching more of the skills that enable practitioners to anticipate and cope with change and help overcome in-built resistance to the new.

    I agree that new thinking seem to be squished too often, but I also find a lack of knowledge of established principles. I’m still introducing students to relevant models dating from the 1950s, as many experienced practitioners have never heard about the century of research and thinking that underpins so much of what they do (or shouldn’t do).

    You present a solid argument for education and even licensing – but most particularly for challenging continuing professional development to identify those who are serious about what they do.

    You are right that without this commitment, the only people interested in working in PR will be the dodgy dealers and party planners.

  3. “mail” is the secret anti-spam word I needed inorder to be able to post this. Seems fitting.

    We’ve been waiting for weeks for the PR people at a giant, giant company to sned us words and pictures to publish in Canada’s largest newspaper. They’re two weeks late.

    Maybe the future of PR is hiring people who can read not only a clock, but a calendar.

    We’ve received the words, but not the pictures, which apparently she can’t figure out how to send by e-mail, so I just provicded a street address so she can send a CD by courier.

    Maybe the future of PR is learning to do the simple on-line tasks, and not worry about amateur radio by ten year olds — or, go listen to the IABC podcast. Those folks are olderthan ten but still can’t edit.

    In regard to the original posting here — I’d love to know how the money changes hands in car launch PR. Yesterday I spent half an hour at the book store reading CAR, the British automobile magazine that may well be the best English language magazine in the world.

    And I wondered about the financial arrangements between editorial content and car makers.

    CAR has a contest — some lucky reader will be flown to Germany, taken to a deluxe hotel near a race track, fed a VIP dinner, sleep the sleep of a baby until the next day, where the lucky sod gets to drive a BMW around a race track for a couple of hours, coached by BMW professionals.

    For a car guy, hard to imagine a better prize, but I’m betting CAR is not paying for all this.

    Phoenix, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo (the place, not the car), Baltimore (Nissan’s Rogue launch), assorted parts of Germany, Modena, — who pays for the airplane tickets and the hotel rooms and the great meals?

    Because this might be the new model of PR.

    Who pay whom to get what run where, and how much of what is run is written and edited by real journalists and how much is written and edited by marketing depertment employees, and, for that matter, when does PR get absorbed into the marketing department anyway?

    Training? I’d be happy if the twinkies in the PR department read just one daily newspaper regularly, on pages other than the horoscope and the Britney /Paris section.

    And don’t tell me they’re reading the web instead. They may have the web turned on, byut their in Myface or Spacebook or whatever, reading what their friends had for dinner last nite OMG.

    As for “growing” a PR agency. I suggest the most popular skill set is the ability to charge the same hour to two clients, to get huge amounts of money sent to conglomerate headquarters in London and New York, and the ability to use buzzwords to get people with MBAs to give them new business, or at least not fire them.

    Yes, there are some great PR people, some great agencies — that may be stretching it; great people in some good agencies — and some good PR programs.

    But I’d like PR Conversations readers to simply list here some companies with excellent over all PR, nowadays. (Past sins forgiven, anticpated sins not recorded yet.)

    I’ll start with Apple, and the Museum of Inuit Art, the Henry’s and vistek camera store chains in Canada, B&H Photovideo in New York, and the Globe and Mail, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal newspapers.

    Coke peddles tap water in plastic bottles; every gas company is run by thieves, can anyone name a non-ripoff bank? Do you trust Dell yet?

    Oh, and, in the good column, Cunard.

    BAK

  4. Brian – I’ll take up the challenge to explain how automotive PR in UK works in a separate post.

    CAR is an excellent magazine, with some truly inspirational writers. When I run a “writing for the media” course for auto PRs, I ask them to bring along a piece of writing they admire, and a good number choose something from CAR. Which is a start – as you highlight, if you do not read, how can you write for the media?

    I wish I could say I am surprised by the behaviour of the PR people who have messed you around. But we hear it far too often. I agree entirely that whatever the future of PR, we need people who get the basics right. One of these has to be a can do attitude.

    When recruiting for PR posts, my rule was always to look for common sense and a sense of humour. All the other skills are meaningless if someone hasn’t an ounce of understanding of how to make things happen or the wit to find out.

    My own experience working in a PR consultancy wasn’t as mercenary as you indicate, but I have seen that approach in operation with a big, multinational company and a similarly big name global agency.

    What I learned working in the consultancy was actually a better appreciation of the value of time and also the economics of running a business. I’m not justifying the type of practices you observe, and have to say that I advocate employing professionals in-house over external consultancies as a preferred option.

    I am surprised at how easily the in-house guys turn to using external consultancies for work that could more effectively be done in-house. I feel this reflects part of the marketing-isation of PR in many respects – with a lot of agencies used for “creative” campaigns, regardless of their real value.

    I think it is a good suggestion to get PR Conversations to champion good PR operations. From the outside, good PR is often unseen – but we should certainly be raising the profile of those who are exemplary. And, I don’t mean those who win industry awards either.

  5. Brian

    First, what are twinkies?

    Next, your problems with the giant, giant company – perhaps it is another example of tasks being given to junior members of staff, who are then left unsupervised and uninstructed and so get it hopelessly wrong. Often the way, not of course the right way, just lazy business practice that impacts on everyone else and a provides a great example of why we need proper internships.

    Employing anyone without, as Heather says, ‘the wit to find out’, points the finger of blame at the recruiter/employer rather than the ‘twinkie’ on Farcebook in the corner. A well-defined job description and proper training would negate those particular problems – and if people still don’t perform to standard then sort it fast and don’t let it fester.

    CAR has always been the Flash Harry of the UK automotive press with a very high standard of writing combined with the ability to foster and grow voluminous journalistic egos and, from memory, its prizes have generally been larger than life. That said, while I was dealing with them during the late eighties, the story was King regardless of whether you were Great Big Car Corporation or Teeny Weeny New Designer and it was always, always written by staff. But hey, that’s a long time ago and a lot of oil has leaked out under the bridge since then.

    As for the who is paying for what to go in where – that has to be transparent and it has to be declared. Here, for example, if a journalist is ‘taken’ somewhere by someone – a recent example I can think of was TV journalist going to do a series of reports on America – viewers/readers are told that such-and-such a company provided the tickets or stumped up for dinner. I can’t remember who paid the tickets for the recent TV jaunt (so that didn’t work too well for brand awareness in my case), but it was all up front and clear. I don’t believe ‘paid for’ is in any way shape or form a new public relations model but it is certainly a development of sponsorship and in some places, quasi-media relations. Danger occurs when something is paid or gifted to a journalist and it is undeclared, so the reader/viewer is unaware that the carefully crafted opinion has been bought.

    Talking of which, PR gets absorbed into the marketing department when marketing decides that ‘they need a bit of PR’ and by ‘PR’, they mean media relations, not public relations. Throughout that discipline’s ‘body of knowledge’, there are constant descriptions and references to public relations as an add-on tactical accessory used to get a bit of ‘free’ media coverage.

    On the excellent public relations front I can name a non-ripoff bank – KiwiBank seems fine to me (although I am only a punter and don’t get a detailed look at its books of course) and (don’t hold your sides laughing here, but it’s true) I will also add NZ’s Inland Revenue department! Over the last eighteen months it has seriously jacked up the quality benchmark for a government department trying to build and maintain good relationships with its stakeholders. As you say Brian, anticipated sins as yet unrecorded, watching them as a stakeholder with a professional interest, they are certainly giving it a go.

    I will take issue over Apple though. These days, Apple has great brand visibility but lousy public relations and I say that as someone who has been a slave to the Apple platform since its launch – my garage resembles a museum collection of bits of Apple this and that. As their products have become sleeker, their treatment of stakeholders has become even more disdainful. Much as I love the kit, does Apple really deserve its customers to stay loyal as it slips deeper and deeper into brand arrogance? Take a cross-plaform trawl through some of the forums (although I suspect you really have got better things to do) and listen to the conversations – and that’s before adding up the number of unusable and unrepairable iPod Shuffles stuffed in drawers around the globe. The fall from the tree will come because the relationships are not being sustained by actions, despite the constant and creative flow of words.

    So, following your excellent piece of viral marketing, I’m off to buy a copy of CAR and have a stab at that competition….

  6. Heather

    Interesting post. I agree with Paul Holmes’ speculation in his manifesto about future requirements for PR practitioners. With the advent of new forms of media and content distribution, the industry will no doubt need a mix of both junior and senior people to reach target audiences. What will also be needed is a collection of good writers. These people will have the skills and insight needed to converse with “virtual” audiences on a wide variety of issues.

    While current trends and stereotypes show PR practitioners as being traditionally corporate types who tend to rehearse “corporatespeak”, PR practitioners of the future will have to contribute to the conversation in a whole new way. With the entrance of social media, the playing field has changed (and will continue to change), and PR practitioners will have to learn how to develop and implement a human voice in cyberspace. Those who are able to grasp the human side of technology will be the real winners as PR moves into the next century.

  7. The current trends and stereotypes show PR practitioners as being traditionally corporate types who tend to rehearse “corporatespeak”, PR practitioners of the future will have to contribute to the conversation in a whole new way. With the entrance of social media, the playing field has changed (and will continue to change), and PR practitioners will have to learn how to develop and implement a human voice in cyberspace.

    Pr Jobs

  8. “If (neighed the one-trick pony) it is agreed that public relations is about building relationships, then the education and training required to underpin that purpose is pretty straightforward.”

    No, Catherine, it is not agreed that public relations is about building relationships.
    Public relations is about persuasion, a much more complex activity. Building relationships is one of the many tactics of persuasion.

    If public relations were only about building relationships, no special training would be required. Just look at those trafficking in relationships now: publicists, lobbyists, lawyers, political consultants, sales and marketing people of all stripes. All you need is a cell phone and an expense account.

    Nor is it agreed that APR is a valid credential. In fact, it is one of the most specious credentials in the world, based as it is on a multiple-choice test taken by a dwindling number of applicants each year. If the various public relations organizations around the world got together and agreed upon a global standard, examination process, and requirements for continued certification, it might be a step forward.

  9. I believe anyone who has that strong initiative for change, can make a great PR, relations are great but everyone has to be the same level to understand, most people these days are just bored of the same approach to every situation, money, money, money, Money can be made but if that is the focus and everything else is eliminated, then surely there will be no success at all.

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