What's in a title? Gawker's Hamilton Nolan takes the PR industry to task over what we call ourselves in a recent post. I suppose other firms are starting to look inward at what these titles really mean. At one large agency the solution is converting Vice Presidents and such (why so many of them, anyhow?) into Strategists and Connectors. When I worked on Capitol Hill, a title meant everything - what you did, how much you were paid, and your seniority (basically, markers of your importance and influence). The Chief of Staff is the head honcho in the Member office - but, the Staff Director is the boss on the Committee. And, in Washington, we all know what it means to be an intern.
Titles are about pecking order and perceived importance - big deals in PR and in the District. One my former bosses, who was a big deal himself on the 2000 Presidential campaign, first got me to question titles when I asked him what mine would be (I was just starting in politics in DC). I remember him asking: "Some people call themselves Chief Knowledge Officers - what's that mean?" When I was negotiating a move on the Hill, I requested that the title of Deputy Chief of Staff be added to my already branded Communications Director tag in the new office. Why not two titles? I liked the two lines on my business card.
But, seriously, we all know it's not really about the titles - it's about the work we do. I don't really tell anyone I am a Vice President - my grandmother likes to, though, and it's on my Facebook page. But, it's just not a very good description of the work I do.
I work with the media - I help people and organizations become part of the national conversation. I develop story angles, and strategies to connect those with those who matter and help affect change. I like helping people become part of conversations they wouldn't be a part of otherwise. For instance, a tragic pool near-drowning was an important time for a client to appear on NBC's Today Show, to remind parents and children to be safe in the water this summer. With the threat of a government shutdown, I helped connect a small business association with CNNMoney after a White House meeting to amplify the effect of a shutdown on the economy; and I worked with the same organization to highlight a poll about our federal budget and deficit crisis in the Wall Street Journal.
It's about the work, not the title. I even helped my firm win an award for connections like these. I will admit, the title sounds cool and makes some of us feel like we are doing a good job. And I'm not sure I could come up with a better one. Nolan knocks down the Strategists and Connectors, proposing fruits instead. Why not Banana and Apple, he asks? Nolan's right, the title doesn't really matter. But my grandmother would probably prefer Vice President to Apple, so I'm sticking with what I have. At least until I get a promotion.