Once upon a time it was all relatively clear. A press officer dealt with the press. Their job was to tell the story of the organisation they are working for to the outside world. And react to media calls with efficiency and effectiveness.
Yes there were elements of internal communications (depending on the size of the organisation) and the need to have a clear understanding of who you needed to know and how to get the stories.
You certainly needed to know your media well. Reading papers, flicking through magazines or listening to TV and radio provided you with a knowledge of where to place stories and kept you up to date with the issues of the day.
It was a clearly defined role with some grey areas where your communication skills would help other parts of the organisation.
But now the concept of a press officer role is fast becoming history. The brave new world of social media and the rise and rise of online driven content means that press officers have in effect become communications officers. It is as important to know how the digital world works and how quickly things can happen as understanding traditional media (newspapers, magazines etc). Yes the core part of a press officer role still deals with the media but this is evolving fast and there are new aspects to the job that didn’t exist even a few years ago.
These changing dynamics of media relations work mean that press officers need to think laterally all of the time. They need to have a clear idea of how stories can break and the need to think and act quickly to a story that can go global on twitter or Facebook in minutes.
The skills and experience needed are also rapidly changing. The way that stories break is moving beyond the press release to blogs and twitter. You can spend as much time dealing with a tweet as a phone call from a journalist.
To say that we’re all communication officers now is not over egging it. People working in a press office have always had to be good communicators that can write with brevity and accuracy and have the ability to grasp complex topics. But the clearly defined boundaries for press officers have broken down and in the purest sense this job title has become irrelevant.