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The Future Trends in Public Relations Employment

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As to future trends in public relations employment, Jean Cardwell, of the Chicago-based Cardwell Consultants- Executive Selection and Personnel Planning, writes:

"As vice-presidents of public relations continue to retire in the next five to ten years, they will be replaced by broad-based generalists who are more familiar with Wall Street and Washington. These will be professionals who are also excellent managers. Public relations pros will increase their recognition of the importance of learning management and organizational development skills. Many more MBA's will be hired by public relations departments, most obviously in corporations, but increasingly in associations and agencies. Conversely, more active public relations professionals working today will be seen enrolling in MBA programs as evening-school students.

"More corporate public relations departments will hire public relations advisers who can effectively guide them in public and social policy.

"As agency heads retire and internal personnel replace them, problems will arise in not having enough professional strength at the middle levels. Agency business will continue to grow, and the need for expert talent will be crucial. Their salaries will obviously have to catch up to corporate salary levels if agencies are to retain their valuable assets: their public relations pros. But agency practitioners must assume a more businesslike profile (rather than the razzle-dazzle attitudes many now have) if they wish to advance or find placement in fields other than agencies.

"Summing up, there will be a greater interest on the part of both agencies and corporations in the public relations professionals who truly have an understanding of business practice- in depth."

Len Daniels, President of Placement Associates Inc, New York, supplies his personal appraisal of public relations:

"As our business world becomes exceedingly complex and government regulations even more so, the demands on the public relations executive are ever-increasing. The vice-president of public affairs, communications, and public relations, whatever title the corporation adopts, is getting more and more into corporate overall planning. This has been a slow process, but hang in there, it is happening.

"The standard tools of public relations are still most essential: writing ability, conceptual ability, and press relations. Public relations positions have increased in the business world; however, public relations in the nonprofit field has not kept the same growth pace.

"The rapidly growing areas of public relations seem to be emerging into two major markets and many, many specialized fields. The first, the generalist, has a working knowledge of print and electronic media as well as trade and industrial and financial markets, plus speechwriting, photography, layout and design, etc. The generalist, however, uses these skills not in the technical sense, but by providing clients or employer with counsel. This is not to say that the generalist will not place a story or write a news release, but the main job is the overall continuity of the public relations or project and the direction it takes. General-ists, especially those who understand business and hold an MBA degree, are rarely at a loss for a job in major markets today.

"Public relations also has made dramatic inroads into marketing, and as a result there currently is a demand for people having public relations expertise with a marketing background. This acceptance by marketers all over the country is the latest signal that the necessity of public relations promises to reach every corporate cranny.

"The corporate financial specialist should have an in-depth knowledge of business and economics. A few courses in accounting and economics along with a law degree can be vital in moving up the corporate financial public relations success ladder. This area of expertise can be vital in public affairs work as well.

"The technician is one who handles only one aspect of public relations such as print or electronic placements or financial or trade publication stories or even researching. This niche is especially rewarding for the former newspaper person or radio or television journalist because it requires day-to-day contact with the audience he or she is most familiar with, and using his or her ability to dig out or research a story.

"Add to this a range of specialties from audiovisual expertise, research, photography, and others, and public relations becomes sometimes as diverse as the medical or legal professions.

"Anyone wishing to pursue a public relations career, however, needs basic skills, which include an excellent working knowledge of the English language in all its forms.

"Even after a person has accumulated the necessary pre-requisites, he or she should look closely at an agency or corporate position as well as government and nonprofit areas before accepting a position. The current salary levels may seem high to the casual student of public relations, but they are high for a reason. Good, competent public relations people are hard to find, but the market is glutted with hacks and nonprofessionals and misplaced employees.

"Public relations is a subjective profession. After the basic skill levels are achieved and fine-tuned many times, the differ-ence between a successful practitioner and a mediocre one de-pends on working environment. Probably in no other profession must the prospective employee and employer look more closely at whom they are climbing into the eight-to-five bed with. Simply, if you do not fit in, it doesn't matter how good your skill level is, you won't hold that position long. Public relations is a creative labor of love, demanding large-scale interaction with several diverse groups-all with different sensitivity levels.

"Whether the job is at an agency or a corporation, or in government, a smart job-hunter will look closely at employee interaction-both horizontal and vertical. Public relations professionals enjoy a great degree of respectability, and they should play a large part in the overall objectives and goals set down for the entire company. At an agency, one should look for heavy contact with a client-the agency should live with the client and be aware of everyday problems the client faces. There also should be a willingness to explore every facet of the client's operation including the industry competition. The agency should have pipelines to every department including marketing, legal, financial, and more importantly, the board room. There should be an easy working relationship between client and agency. If public relations is part of an advertising budget, there should be a clear delineation between the advertising and public relations functions, with the two working together only in principle to achieve corporate goals.

"The agency should not be timid about educating the client of the various media about the specific role of the public relations professional. As the third-party consultant, the agency has the potential to cross otherwise explosive political boundaries on both the corporate and media sides and cut through to the heart of a problem. A good agency should not be afraid to use its third-party power when it is needed.

"On the corporate side, public relations many times falls into a second-class status, partly because of the yes-man syndrome and partly because of misconceptions harbored by top management. For this reason, the corporate public relations person needs to accept the position much like that of legal counsel, but at the same time keep lines open for communication to other different and vocally loyal groups such as traffic or marketing. The public relations loyalty factor must be measured by the quality of advice, not a sometimes surface impression that the public relations people are trying to tear down the corporate cornerstone.

"Many overambitious young corporate employees purposely find a post in the public relations department in order to have access to the entire company. It is one of the few professions that allow accessibility to all levels of management, and the position provides many with the opportunity to embark on their own game of politics to rise to lofty positions in other more lucrative departments. This practice, while usually confined to the beginning corporate public relations person who has a smattering of journalism or English and seems to be able to handle a job on the company newspaper, is becoming more and more frequent. The upper-middle management moves that place an executive with no background in public relations in a key position also are prevalent in corporations that have little regard for the profession. The serious public relations person should be wary of this situation.

"During interviews with corporations, the prospective employee should inquire about his future not with the company as a whole, but specifically in the public relations department. If the majority of the people are moved from public relations into another department rather than up the public relations ladder, you can be relatively sure that the public relations department is not considered by top management as a profession unto itself, but rather as a training ground for future operations vice-presidents or middle-management functionaries.

"Most good public relations people do not make good functionaries in other departments. The public relations practitioner must keep an adversary as well as a loyal eye toward the company, shareholders, employees, and the general public. He must at times propose programs and fight for policies that seem to go against the grain of company loyalty. He must be the barometer of opinion for different audiences and use his knowledge of different departments and their functions to effect a solution. It is easy to see that this tack may not work in other company departments that demand loyalty to the detriment of different ideas. The public relations man must be above popularity contests, and if a prospective employer totally understands this, the prospective employee can be assured of a high degree of professionalism.

"The employer should look for a candidate who displays the ability to effect changes both popular and unpopular in a manner that keeps high the standards of professionalism without incurring undue resistance from a presentation of ideas in an undiplomatic manner."
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