The Evolution of PR

New Technology and a Growing Dependence on Websites and Social Media Require Digital Media Specialists.

Several trends are causing business communication jobs to expand. New technology and a growing dependence on websites and social media require digital media specialists.

Growth in the aggregate industry and the trend for conglomerates to absorb more and more smaller businesses create large unwieldy work forces that need specialists to develop communication processes to move information to and from corporate leadership and employees. And heightened public scrutiny through the expanding world of digital media creates a need for specialists to develop and implement crisis communication plans.

Most early public relations practitioners did nothing more than write and place newspaper stories. Some 21st century public relations departments still have a writer producing press releases, but they might also have a full-time staff member at the next desk managing web pages – a job not even science fiction writers anticipated.

Here are some of the jobs developed within the public relations industry over the last 100 years:

  • Publicity – The responsibility for getting free media coverage in newspapers and on radio and television. Usually, publicity writers put out information with news value and hope it gets picked up by newspaper editors and blog authors.
  • Advertising – Similar to the publicity job except the client pays for publicity in the form of advertising.
  • Press-Agentry – May involve publicity and advertising, but the traditional press agent focuses on creating events to attract media attention for a client who is a celebrity.
  • Public Affairs – Sometimes used synonymously with public relations, but generally it refers to personal interaction with government and community publics.
  • Issues Management – The strategic responsibility for anticipating and responding to public policy issues. There is a constant need for the aggregate industry to pay attention to legislation dealing with issues like road construction and safety.
  • Lobbying The attempt to influence legislation by interacting directly and indirectly with legislators.
  • Investor Relations May include skills in all the other public relations jobs, but with a narrow focus on shareholders and the financial community. Annual reports and shareholder meetings are key responsibilities for these practitioners.

While the terms listed above are still with us, their boundaries have been challenged and stretched by evolving media and mediation processes. more specific list of current jobs within the field would include the following:

  • Social Media Coordinator This specialist might manage the company profile on Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Intranet Coordinator Regardless of size, most companies now have private Intranet pages for announcements, job postings, and benefits information. This could be a site where only employees have access, or it could be password-protected links on the public company internet site. This position may be housed in human resources.
  • Digital Newspaper Editor – Most organizations with over 100 employees have one or more newspapers for employees or customers, and most of these publications have moved online. This person must have the news writing skills of the press release writer and also be able to design and post a digital publication.
  • Employee Communication Manager – This person is the manager of the writer who produces the employee newspaper. More significantly, an active employee communication coordinator interacts with management and human resources to design and run employee communications meetings and provide advice for developing a positive corporate culture through events like employee orientation, employee picnics, and service awards dinners.
  • Public Relations Strategist – This internal consultant would develop crisis plans and could be responsible for monitoring, interpreting, and projecting changes in public opinion inside and outside the organization. The public opinion research staff reports to this position.

While many new responsibilities for managing communication have developed, one thing has not changed. The information that passes through the new media is essentially the same information that we have always communicated: stories about people that provide reward and recognition, reports on the financial health of the organization, and work-related information that employees at all levels need to perform their jobs.

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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