It’s a team game. Specialists needed.
About the author
Richard Bailey Hon FCIPR is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.
I’d have felt uncomfortable using a football metaphor to describe public relations roles before this summer’s Euros. Now I have no problem using the sport to explain the roles in a profession that is two-thirds female.
Public relations is a team game; even independent practitioners are contributing to the team effort while often working solo. Versatile players are an asset, but specialists will usually win out in any given position. So let’s look at the team; you should be asking yourself ‘where do I fit in?’ and ‘what specialist role do I see myself developing into?’
I’ve picked a classic four-four-two formation with a diamond in midfield; we have six potential substitutes sitting on the bench.
Goalkeeper: This is the most specialist position of all. We’re looking for a safe pair of hands, a shot stopper who is also capable of quick and accurate distribution to get the team on the front foot. Experience counts (top goalkeepers rarely break through as teenagers but often remain at the top for years beyond their outfield teammates). The specialist public relations role described here is the crisis communication expert.
Left centre back: You’re not always the most mobile of players and you’re certainly not the most flashy. You’re picked for your solidity and for your ability to read the play ahead of you. You’re the analyst/researcher, and an essential part of a successful team, providing the platform for others to perform from.
Right centre back: Similar to your fellow centre back, you’re not seeking stardom but you do perform a vital function. You’re the measurement expert, well-versed in the AMEC framework and Google Analytics.
Left wing back: You’re a tireless performer, willing to provide overlaps in attacking phases and to track back. You’re probably left footed and are hard to replace given your specialist skills. You’re the team’s public affairs specialist.
Right wing back: You started out as an all-rounder but have now found your place in the team as a specialist. You’ve tried external comms but you’re now focused on your role as an internal communicator. You’re pleased to find that your role is becoming increasingly valued by the manager.
Holding midfielder: You’re the metronome of the team, setting the tempo for others around you, and always available to receive a pass when needed. You’re rarely the star of the show (others are the flair players and the goalscorers), but you’re its beating heart. You’re the comms leader and the team’s strategist.
Left-sided midfielder: Managers have tried various formations over recent years, and you’ve sometimes found yourself dropped from the team. But they keep finding you’re needed and reverting to the tried and tested four-four-two formation. You’re the team’s media relations specialist.
Right-sided midfielder: You can cover for the left midfield role, but have found the position that suits you best supporting the attack. You’re the team’s digital PR specialist, combining media relations and influencer marketing skills with link building for SEO.
Attacking midfielder: You’re the most elusive and mercurial talent in the team, sometimes deployed as a false nine. Your talent is your unpredictability: you can see the pass that can unlock defences before anyone else; you can ghost into unexpected positions to receive passes; you can run past players and score sensational goals with either foot (but rarely with your head). You can fade in and out of games, but when on form you’re its most spectacular player. You’re the creative.
Forward (number 10 shirt): You’re a nimble and agile player as comfortable creating chances as scoring them. Next to the team’s attacking midfielder, you’re its flair player and a fan favourite. You’re the team’s versatile and visible content writer, producing a stream of white papers, speeches, thought leadership articles and social media posts.
Forward (number 9 shirt): You’re the team’s most direct player, famed for your powerful headers and your goalpoaching inside the six yard box. Admittedly, you’re not the most mobile, but that doesn’t matter because your job is to put the ball in the back of the net. You’re the team’s pitching and presentation expert. You command high transfer fees in the consultancy world, but you’re also a vital member of the in-house team because there’s always a need for advocacy and persuasion across the organisation.
Each substitute needs to be simultaneously a generalist, capable of covering several of these positions when called on; and also a specialist, bringing their unique skills and experience to add value to the team. Our bench has the following generalist-specialists: financial PR, healthcare comms, technology PR, automotive PR and can also call on a consumer PR generalist. There’s one more position on the bench to cover the most hard-to-replace team member: we need one more specialist goalkeeper and have chosen a talented young player to shadow and learn from our experienced keeper.