These days it seems like everyone I know in the public relations game is looking for a new job. If nothing else, the sheer amount of people I know looking for a change in the public relations industry–I honestly believe that about 50 percent of the PR reps I know are looking to change employers–signals that PR vets and newbies alike are feeling less secure about their actual responsibilities as the definition of “public relations” continues to evolve.
Recently I was flying home from a rare vacation and I ended up seated next to a young public relations rep on the plane. She has only been at her job at a large public relations agency for 18 months, but she’s already sick of it.
“They just don’t get it,” she said of her bosses. “They want press clippings, but they don’t care if the press is any good. They don’t care about online publications, or blogs, or specialty cable programs. It’s like they don’t know how to deal with the media anymore, and they think every reporter is wearing a rumpled suit and can be swayed with a couple of martinis. They don’t understand how much the game has changed.”
Two nights later, I had dinner with a public relations vet who’s also ready to jump from an agency. His problem? The job he was promised was not delivered, and he’s tired of working outside of his area of expertise and comfort. This didn’t surprise me one bit, as large agencies have always had problems recognizing and deploying talent effectively.
The madness continued: two public relations reps I know–one at a major corporation and one overseas at a boutique–emailed me saying they were looking to move.
“I realize now that no one above me understands the line between marketing and PR,” said my friend at the major corporation. “I don’t get the support or resources I need to do my job, and I’m not delivering what the higher-ups feel a PR person should be delivering.”
I forwarded the above comments to my friend at the overseas boutique, who said she wants the “safe haven” of a big company because, “I’m tired of dealing with clients who ask for everything but don’t cooperate when I tell them what they need to do.”
Is anyone happy with their job?
I liken the current state of public relations to television at the turn of the millennium. Reality shows were displacing standard sitcoms and dramas as prime time fare, while news magazine shows were replacing nightly newscasts as the viewer’s choice for informational programming. Reality shows certainly have not gone away, but they’ve been co-opted by faux reality shows and better reality shows. Likewise, news magazine shows haven’t gone away–unless we’re talking about the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes–but programmers are depending less and less on news magazines to drive viewership.
Meanwhile, in the public relations world, we’re seeing a shift from a two-way communications street, between the PR rep and the media, to a three-way communications intersection, which now involves the consumer. Public relations missteps are now being acknowledged by the wider population, be it on blogs, in letters to newspapers, or in consumer boycotts. However, as with television, we’re still seeing the same “programs”–we’re just seeing them adapt to better fit the needs of clients and the media.
With this in mind, I don’t believe the basic job of a public relations professional–to communicate–has changed. However, I do believe that how a PR rep does her job has changed. No longer can we expect a simple two-way street to suffice. We now have to open up the avenues of conversation within the company, and we need to understand a client’s needs while communicating our skill set.
My advice to all my friends looking for new public relations jobs has essentially been the same. You need to find a company that understands that public relations is not just about racking up press clippings or figuring out how to turn a client into the next Google. What you need is a company that is fundamentally changing the way it handles PR, with an understanding that a great communicator is still the most important asset you can have.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.