Unconventional job titles build firm's culture, brand

Professional titles have traditionally been expressions of expertise and seniority (or lack thereof). Now, firms are using them to further incorporate culture and better explain their brand story.

Professional titles have traditionally been expressions of expertise and seniority (or lack thereof). Now, firms are using them to further incorporate culture and better explain their brand story.

Derek Creevey joined Edelman in 2002 as director of marketing and was made chief of staff in 2004, a position created by CEO Richard Edelman due to the firm's growth.

“We used to have 1,800 employees, today [we're] at 3,500,” Creevey says. “If a firm is growing at that pace, management has to change, and it wasn't a good use of the CEO's time to have four direct reports effectively on the operational side.”

The title does not obviously indicate the degree of Creevey's corporate and operational oversight, which includes tasks in marketing, HR, IT, and a direct report to Edelman himself.

“At another company, I might be chief administrative officer,” Creevey says, “And, sometimes, even [internally], people don't know who I am, and what authority I have. So it becomes all about what you say. It's not about the stars and respect from a title, but purely on ideas.”

This focus on the importance of ideas rather than hierarchical agency roles was the reason Shelley Rosen, CEO and founder of Airlift Ideas, decided to include less traditional titles at her agency.

With staff “storytellers” and a “chief insights director,” Rosen seeks to capture “the best ideas from the brightest people, without boundaries,” she says. “It's a better work environment when you remove the boundaries of [whom] reports to [whom] because we all report to the client.”

Rosen adds that such titles provide further branding opportunities for the agency “since everything is the brand” and provides growing room for creative new talent.

Recently, the agency hired a staffer with a background in writing. After mapping out her responsibilities, Rosen asked what professional title she would like to use.

“She asked if she could be 'brand story architect,'” and started blogging and texting all her friends [about her title],” Rosen says. “It was very empowering to her.”

North Star Marketing has also found title creation to be an effective practice in growing staff, according to April Williams, who is the firm's owner, president, and CEO, but whose title is “the visionary.”

“[These] titles generate great feedback,” she says. “We end up having a waiting list of people who want to work here, and our culture is reflected in our titles,” which include chief aesthetic officer (lead designer) and director of the bottom line (officer with oversight of finances).

According to Williams, these titles are helpful when pitching new business because the client understands who her staff is and what they are presenting, without emphasis on whether the most senior person is speaking.

However, Williams has found that the media has difficulty with this.

“Reporters want to know what [the title] means,” Williams says. “It's taken years for some of them to understand that you can [lack] a serious title and still be good at what you do.”

Key points

  • creative titles help contribute to a "flat landscape" within an agency
  • Unique monikers can draw attention to the ideas and personal qualities of the team
  • Self-created titles can highlight the potential for growth within the agency

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