The Evolving PR Professional: 7 Emerging Agency Specialists

Phil Nardone

I was on LinkedIn recently and was struck by how many public relations professionals now describe themselves as “brand strategists,” “storytellers” and “content gurus.”

It got me thinking: what are the skillsets of the PR professional and how will they change in the next few years? What are the titles that accurately describe what our employees do? What is the make-up of the agency/client team in the future?

Some in the industry have already taken measures to reflect the reality of these evolving agency roles. In 2011, Golin Harris made a marketing splash when they categorized employees as creators, strategists, connectors or catalysts. Still other agencies – to address growing client concerns -- have created titles like “chief content officer” and “digital marketing strategist.”

PAN Communications as an agency may not be ready to change its titles just yet, but the idea has been discussed in my management meetings. Our employees’ roles and responsibilities have evolved along with the media, technology and our clients’ needs.

When I look across our firm, I can see that we are indeed changing. Some employees, for instance, naturally gravitate to roles based on specific areas of expertise within their client teams; while others enjoy a more holistic account management role. Today’s titles and their corresponding roles and responsibilities often do not reflect what PR professionals’ individual areas of expertise.

And so, I took a moment to list my vision of what the future agency’s roles might look like. It seems to me these are the roles of the PR team of the future, but perhaps there are more. I invite you to comment and expand!

First, there is the client relationship manager who is a natural juggler as well as a people person that works directly with the client contact to manage expectations, build consensus and rapport internally and externally. This is the client account leader and effectively runs the overall program with collaboration from several other key employees. This person is a relationship specialist and has a high degree of interpersonal skills, is happiest at meetings and networking on behalf of clients.

The client strategist is the person that sees the trends ahead of the client and helps to chart the client’s course and improve its brand recognition. This person revels in research and statistics and perhaps in a previous life served as an industry analyst.

The content creator is the person on the team who is responsible for creating and curating content that will help drive the client brand. This person is a natural born writer, creative and able to digest, aggregate and distill large amounts of information. They can also see the connection and value of written content to images, graphics and video to support brand content across media. This person was likely a publication editor or broadcast producer in a previous life.

There is the engagement specialist—a people person who’s skill is to make friends, win over enemies and develop communities that support client brands. This person influences influencers and sways bloggers, writers, reporters, and other media, to engage with the brand over earned and shared media. These employees are hard core brand enthusiasts and advocates that go above and beyond to enhance and protect clients’ brands and reputation.

The project manager is a task master that ensures that the clients’ projects are kept on course, deadlines are met and measurement and return on investment are reported. This is the person on your team that keeps schedules and is a natural organizer. This person also has great delegation and task management skills and very likely served as a project leader while in another career.

The issue and crisis specialist is a person that works on multiple brands within the agency and whose chief role is to anticipate, plan and mitigate potentially brand damaging events or information. This person is the “insurance” for the client brand; the person that can see and assess risk and whether it is worth taking.

Lastly, rounding out the team is the client administrator. He/she is the person that makes sure that the details that factor into a client program are completed efficiently and effectively. This person loves organization and administrative details.

Having people with all of these skillsets is critical at an agency; finding them in one person is increasingly rare. Something tells me that all of us are going to have to look more closely at aligning titles and roles to today’s reality in the not too distant future.

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