Are PR job descriptions obsolete?

Strict adherence to job descriptions are out the door. Convergence is key to reaching all the publics in public relations.

Yesterday I tuned in to a webinar given by Southwest Airlines’ VP of Communication and Strategic Outreach Linda Rutherford (@SWAfollower). She talked about how the Southwest team has changed its organization and communications approach to create the popular brand we know today, especially through its successful use of social media outlets.

Her discussion of convergence within Southwest’s communications team has stuck with me. The traditional role of its public relations officers is changing: PR folks are doing more internal communication work, traditional internal communication specialists are working with external constituents, including media. And we’re all dabbling in social media on different levels.

We should be. While I can’t surmise this for every type of public relations position out there, personally, my day-to-day tasks can’t all be categorized under “media relations,” which is the crux of my title. While I do tons of media relations work, not all of my time is consumed by it: important tasks come up that must be done to advance my institution’s mission.

This week so far has been made up of: heavy editing a publication (internal communications), posting content and responding to questions on my institution’s Facebook presence (social networking), connecting regional magazine writer to article sources (media relations), researching speakers for webinar series (research, internal communications), engaging in two webinars (professional development), working with speakers for higher ed conference next month (event planning), and creating a publicity plan two months in advance (PR).

And the list (and yours, too, I bet) goes on and on.

We should all have job descriptions on file for HR and legal purposes. But in many areas of the broader communications field, leave them in the file, and structure positions around strengths, talents, instincts, and what’s really good for your brand and organization (sometimes this last one takes a lot of honesty and a little tough love).

Risk-taking and branching out is a good thing. PR is becoming more and more an experimental field, especially as we continue relying heavily on social media. In the other webinar I listened to this week, the speaker, Mike Volpe (@mvolpe), VP of marketing of HubSpot, advised us to stop thinking like marketers or advertisers. Instead, start thinking like socializers. I like that. It doesn’t pigeonhole us, which is good for us individually and good for our respective organizations.

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2 thoughts on “Are PR job descriptions obsolete?

  1. John Henry Malik says:

    Your observation about broadening a job description is well founded. Conventional wisdom is that the generalist succeeds where the specialist fails. The generalist sees more of the situation and can adapt, whereas the specialist is limited by her specialty. (Dinosaurs and mammals are a good, if primitive, example.)
    In my last position before I went out on my own, there were three positions reporting to the President: the VP of Manufacturing, the VP of Sales and me, who was affectionately called the “VP of Everything Else.” My day was never boring!

  2. Gretchen Hines-Ward says:

    As a card-carrying generalist, I was excited to read some Wendell Berry quotes recently where he points out that specialists can’t see the big picture well enough to see where the holes are in the overall picture. Those weren’t his words, precisely, but too many specialists mean no one is looking for the path we should be heading down. It reminds me of a quote I remember from my Commencement speaker, Grace Murray Hopper – everyone agreed the automobile was A solution, but no one stopped to think if it was the BEST solution. Imagine if we could turn back the clock on that one.

    As someone who has been begging for a job description for 3 years, it’s ironic, isn’t it? But as I’ve been saying for years, please tell me what you want done, don’t tell me how to do it. There are always new ways to skin the cat. And that is what makes a job fun.

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