PR Titles: Irrelevant, Inaccurate – Or Both?

What you are in PR isn't always equivalent to what you do. The roles associated with various PR titles vary dramatically from company to company, with the VP of communications at one company responsible for everything from IR to global brand management, and the VP of communications at another company serving as an exalted media relations manager. We spoke with one senior PR professional who has made the rounds at several public companies with the same title: director of corporate communications. Her actual job, however, differed based on the organization. Michelle Faulkner has been director of corporate communications for a relatively small public company with around 500 employees, a medium public company with close to 1,500 employees and a larger public company with 3,000 employees. "Even though the titles are the same, the responsibilities are very different," Faulkner says. "Because a larger company has a larger staff, one naturally has a more narrow role the larger the company gets." Faulkner says when she began working as director of corporate comms for the largest company, her job responsibilities were strictly confined to PR and messaging. "There were other departments that handled IR, and there was a large product marketing division," she says. While many large companies bring PR professionals to the strategy table, this one did not, and because Faulkner's role was so limited, she felt she wasn't able to have much impact. "My work wasn't as varied. I've learned that title is sort of irrelevant, and that I'd much rather have interesting work to do than be a VP of communications" whose scope is limited. Faulkner has taken what some might consider a demotion in terms of title: She now is director of public relations (rather than corporate communications) at a small private company, Empirix, in Waltham, Mass. Her title may seem narrower, but her impact on the company, she says, is infinitely broader. "I have complete responsibility for all media relations, corporate messaging, case studies." If the company goes public, she will also be responsible for investor and analyst relations. Most important, she says, is consistently being at the strategy table from the inception of any business initiative. That's the key for most professionals these days, according to executive recruiters. They want to be able to have an impact, and those in search of employment, especially, are more willing than ever to make lateral moves or even "downsize" titles for a role that offers room to grow and diversify the responsibilities they list on their résumés. It's also becoming more and more common among agency professionals to skip titles altogether. Chandler Chicco Agency in New York, and Dome Communications in Chicago, both forsake titles (although Dome does share titles for external communications). "By eliminating titles [internally], Dome reinforces the idea that all employees can learn from one another, regardless of rank," says Dome staffer Jessica Pohren. According to Pohren, losing the titles within the agency allows all staffers to feel equally empowered. That means they're all be more comfortable making suggestions, contributions - even critiques. The lesson: take a careful look at the job behind the title. What may seem like a lateral move or even a step backwards could be a major step ahead for your career. (Contacts: Faulkner, 781/993-8500,; Pohren, 312/467-0760, Director, Corporate Communications One Title, Three Jobs Faulkner had widely varying experiences at the three companies where she served as director of corporate comms: Small public company - Drive corporate messaging efforts; define and execute PR and IR strategies; drive product launch process; drive customer case study process; contribute to Web and Events strategies. Medium-sized public company - Drive corporate messaging efforts; define and execute PR and IR strategies; drive product launch process. Large public company - Drive corporate messaging efforts; define and execute PR strategy.

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