In general, public relations professionals can be communication managers who organize and integrate communication activities, or they can be communication technicians who primarily write and construct messages. Research in this area led to the identification of four specific roles: the technician role and three types of communication managers.
Most practitioners begin their careers as communication technicians. This role requires executing strategies with the communication tactics of news releases, employee newsletters, position papers, media placements, Web site content, speeches, blogs, and social media messaging. Practitioners in this role are usually not involved in defining problems and developing solutions, but base their tactics on the technical skill of writing. The expert prescriber is similar to the role a doctor performs with a patient: He or she is an authority on a particular industry, problem, or type of public relations and is given the primary responsibility to handle this function as a consultant or with little input or participation by other senior management. The communication facilitator is a boundary spanner who listens to and brokers information between the organization and its key publics. According to Cutlip, Center, and Broom, the goal of this role is “to provide both management and publics the information they need for making decisions of mutual interest.”Cutlip, Center, and Broom (2006). The problem-solving facilitator collaborates with other managers to define and solve problems. This role requires that the professional is a part of the dominant coalition of the organization and has access to other senior managers. The problem-solving facilitator helps other managers think through organizational problems using a public relations perspective.
Research on these four roles found that the communication technician role was distinct from the other three roles and that the latter three roles were highly correlated.Dozier and Broom (1995), pp. 3–26. In other words, an expert prescriber was also likely to fulfill the role of the communication facilitator and the problem-solving facilitator. To resolve the lack of mutual exclusiveness in the latter three roles, they were combined into one role: communication manager. The dichotomy between the communication technician and the communication manager more accurately explained the responsibilities of public relations practitioners within organizations.
Research indicates that practitioners in a predominantly technician role spend the majority of their time writing, producing, and placing communication messages.Broom and Dozier (1986), pp. 37–56. Typically, those in this role are creative and talented with language and images. Their capacity to create and produce messages with powerful imagery and evocative language is very important to the execution of public relations tactics. However, technicians rarely have a seat at the management table and do not have a voice in the strategy of the organization. Once the strategy is decided, the technician is brought in to execute the deliverables (or tactics) in the strategy.
The communication manager is involved in the strategic thinking of an organization and must be able to conduct research and measurement and share data that informs better decisions for managing relationships with key publics. The communications manager thinks strategically, which means he or she will be focused on the efforts of the organization that contribute to the mutually beneficial relationships that help an organization achieve its bottom-line goals. These efforts are not limited to communication strategies, but include monitoring an organization’s external environment, scanning for issues that might impact the organization, and helping an organization adapt to the needs of its stakeholders.
A study on excellence in the practice of public relations found that one of the major predictors of excellence was whether the role of the top public relations executive was a manager role or a technician role.Grunig, J. E. (1992). Those in the management role were much more likely to have a positive impact on the organization’s public relations practice. In order for corporate communication to function strategically, the executive in charge of the function must have a place at the decision-making table.