Yes, we've been thinking a lot about the ways our profession is changing, and about the need to reimagine the role of the PR professional. Seems to us that there's more than just one role. No matter where you find yourself on the personality grid (think Myers-Briggs, or StrengthsFinder, or The Ten Faces of Innovation, the inspiration for this post), there's probably a good role for you in your organization.
To make things simple, here are five new roles for PR people that have already emerged in our profession. For each role, we name an historical role model (or "archetype," for the Jungians out there), and contemporary role models (PR people who are already doing great stuff in the industry today).
Note to the contemporary role models: no pressure. And you won't have to stand before classrooms urging kids to behave well (yet).
The Researcher -- This one is way obvious. In this age of conversational PR, which is largely happening in the digital world, research and measurement people have a privileged place. They've always understood the value of listening, as well as the value of numbers. But unlike the pollsters and researchers of old, the new leaders will not use what they find to respin the message, but rather to enable the teams they support to enter the conversation truthfully. Historical role model: George Gallup. New-media role models: Katie Paine and Tony Obregon.
The Anthropologist -- corporate communications will learn a lot from the world of design that companies like IDEO has helped to evolve. Like the product and experience designers, communications people will go into the field and observe how people are actually using the tools (and we thank IDEO's Tom Kelley for the anthropologist metaphor). We'll see a lot more of this as companies accelerate the adoption of DIY community tools such as wikis. It's the social rule, not the tool, that many new communications professionals bring to the table. Historical role models: Margaret Mead. New media: Elizabeth Albrycht and Dianna Miller, who are studying wikis for SNCR.
The Gardener -- to build and maintain communities, you need more than just anthropologists. You also need people who are talented in "caring and feeding" the community, and sustaining online environments that sometimes get fractious, unstructured, unproductive. This is a special talent, in rare supply, and the most enlightened members of this lot will always have work. Historical role model: Voltaire ("we must cultivate our garden"). New media: Constantin Basturea, Dan Forbush.
The Communications Architect -- Sometime the tools are just as important as the rules ... if you are smart enough to really know how to use them. A few folks in the PR world are way ahead of others on the technical side and are helping their clients to make sense of the technology tool kit so that they can actually do stuff, and build things (what a concept). Note: building is as much of an art as it is a science. The best folks in this group are creatives. Historical role model: Frank Lloyd Wright. New media: Phil Gomes, Mike Manuel, Jeremy Pepper.
The Impresario -- some PR people will lead by the sheer force of their personality, their work output, or the artistry/fun of their writing (after all, blogging is a writer's medium). For these folks, it's an opportunity to define and shape a new industry. We expect a number of people to emerge here, each with a different strength or style. Historical role models: Ivy Ledbetter Lee and Edward Bernays. New media: Richard Edelman, Steve Rubel, Scott Baradell, Neville Hobson.