Job titles are something of a divisive issue in the PR industry. While most firms rely on various titles to note experience level and stature, there are some agency leaders who believe the mere notion of titles creates a level of bureaucracy that detracts from client work.
For those firms that do use titles, however, the past few years have seen the creation and implementation of new titles that agency executives say help not only in communicating to clients a firm's capabilities, but also with internal communications.
Jeff Hunt, CEO of GCI Group, says that last year's hiring of Jeff Babbit as president and the agency's first chief creative officer - a title which in the past has most often been reserved for ad agencies - was an indication of changes in the PR industry.
"Creativity has always been important in our business, but increasingly clients are looking for people who can think more broadly about their business challenges and bring a whole arsenal of creativity to the table, not just a narrow point of view," he says. "It also allowed me to make a huge statement internally about the importance we place on creativity."
Annie Longsworth, MD of Cohn & Wolfe's San Francisco office, says that her agency made a similar decision last year when naming Jeremy Baka its first-ever chief creative catalyst.
"We're trying to show that we're not just about media relations," she says. "We're really about the whole strategic program, which includes a creative component [that] often drives the program."
Addressing the changing needs and capabilities of the PR industry was also the reason C&W named Tony Obregon as director of social media. Longsworth says that initially Obregon's title was director of new media, but the agency deemed the new title "a necessary change to reflect what the media was actually calling itself."
Though several C&W employees are well-versed in the area of social media, Longsworth says Obregon's title sends an important message to both clients and staffers.
"The point of it is to really show that he has a serious domain expertise and that he can be the person that we point to when our clients say, 'Let's talk about social media and how you guys address it in a PR program,'" she says. "It also helps [employees] with training because they see a person that they can go to and learn something from."
Longsworth adds that she would not be surprised to see agencies adding VPs of sustainability in the near future, in response to the escalating green movement among corporate clients.
While adding specific titles in the social media realm has become a trend, Mike Swenson, president of Barkley PR, notes that it's important to not use these titles merely for show, but as a true reflection of the resources a staff member can bring.
"We do it very sparingly, where we want to demonstrate we have areas of expertise," he explains.
Longsworth concurs. "We don't want to go far with this because if everyone has an area of expertise, then you get a little too parceled out," she says. "Certainly there's value in [still] having [titles like] SVP because that brings a level of credibility in and of itself."
Specific titles help communicate to clients and staff a level of expertise
Titles relating to social-media expertise are becoming increasingly common in PR agencies
Specific titles should be added only in cases where there is a high level of specialization and knowledge