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Definition Of The Career Path

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The profession of communications is difficult to define, and, these days, it is easier to say what it isn't. Norman Leaper, past president of the International Association of Business Communicators (LABC), in a recent speech remarked: "The role of communication has changed ... [It was] a term that . . . conjured up visions of company-produced newsletters by folks whose idea of creativity was a Christmas message printed in the shape of a tree in green ink. Or maybe a series of press releases extolling the virtues of a new fertilizer. . . . No longer is it considered an insecure entry in the budget. . . [or a] luxury or a frill delegated to secretaries who like to write. . . .

"It has become one of the most important elements in any organization ... an essential link between managers and workers ... a liaison between employees and the broader community. . . .

"Management is realizing that good, timely, candid communication is a sound investment both within and outside the organization."

The focus of this article is on the varied roles communications majors can play in the corporate world.

Public Relations

The field of public relations is relatively young, formally founded less than a hundred years ago. Early definitions emphasized public relations as press agen- try and publicity. As the profession evolved, those aspects became less the work of the PR professional, falling more into the realm of publicists and advertising and marketing professionals. Today, public relations is a huge umbrella under which a variety of job titles and professional responsibilities exist. Modern public relations embraces the consultant, corporate communicator, investor relations specialist, public information officer, community liaison, government mediator, troubleshooter, spokesperson, and media coordinator.

The number of professionals doing public relations work is estimated to be about 130,000. Public relations professionals work in every sector, from the corporate world to the sporting world, from government departments to health and medical facilities. And though the settings might vary, their main responsibility usually doesn't. The backbone of every PR professional's job description is his or her role as communicator.

Effective communications are recognized as vital to the success of every organization or cause. Every organization has "publics" to which it must answer. Let's take for an example a large movie theater concern that we'll call National Cinema Corporation. The "publics" that National Cinema Corporation must stay sensitive to include nutritionists and other health professionals who insist that consumers be informed about the fat content of movie theater popcorn; environmentalists who insist that the containers used for the popcorn and cold drinks be biodegradable, or that the tickets be printed on recycled paper; city and town planners who are concerned about parking facilities and traffic patterns near the movie theater as well as signage and lighting; civic groups that are lobbying for improved movie rating systems; zoning officials and school officials-the list can go on and on.

Excluded from this list are customers or consumers, a public that is attended to by professionals involved in advertising, marketing, opinion research, publicity, and promotion and is categorized separately.

The public relations professional is concerned with how the company is perceived by the various target audiences. He or she can also help shape a company and the way it performs. The PR practitioner, by research and evaluation, finds out the expectations and concerns of the various groups and reports back to the organization on his or her findings. A good public relations program needs the support of the organization and the public it is involved with.

The Public Relations Society of America offers accreditation to PR professionals who have been in the field, either in practice or teaching in an accredited college or university for a period of time not less than five years. After candidates pass a written and oral examination to demonstrate their competence and knowledge, they are given the right to use the designation PRSA Accredited or APR. This adds to their professional credibility and personal confidence.

Many of the following job titles fall under the umbrella of professional public relations.

Corporate Communicators

Corporate communicators come with a variety of job titles and perform a mixed bag of functions. As troubleshooters, they handle communication disorders within organizations, acting as problem solvers, group facilitators, negotiators, and mediators. In this capacity, they can also be concerned with keeping professional morale high and keeping workers energized and creative. Whether as an in-house employee or as an independent consultant, a corporate communicator specializing in disorders will conduct a needs-analysis and then design and implement a program to tackle the specific problem. For example, corporate communicators at Exxon conduct seminars for managers to heighten awareness of the concerns of minority and female employees. Various methods and techniques are used such as role-playing, values clarification, simulations, and other hands-on exercises. AT&T instituted an open line for employees to voice their concerns and complaints. Southwestern Bell Telephone arranged for its managers to appear on radio talk shows to respond to complaints and questions from listeners.

Corporate communicators, functioning much as PR specialists, would also act as external troubleshooters, handling problems that develop between an organization and the community within which it is located. Experience has shown that readily sharing information with the community and the media, as well as with employees, can turn around relationships initially based on strife and conflict into working, productive alliances. Atlantic Richfield publishes a weekly newspaper read by approximately 76,000 employees around the world. Among other newsworthy events, the paper reports on deaths resulting from company accidents, details of unfavorable lawsuits, competition in the field, and analyses of the causes for depressed stock prices.

AT&T Technologies is another example of a company that recognizes the importance of candor. It developed a guide for its spokespersons, advising them to be forthright with the press and pointing out that the company's interests are served best by volunteering bad news instead of trying to cover it up.
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