The advent of social media and the ever-increasing role of digital media in our lives means there are a number of opportunities for public relations. There are new ways to find audiences, new media through which to convey messages, tons of opportunities to connect with your brand’s fans, and so on.
Best of all, digital campaigns can be measured.
However, there seems to be some disagreement about the skill set PR pros need to succeed in today’s environment, and there are three points of view emerging:
• The traditionalist, who values the ability to write, build relationships, isolate and convey key messages and build publicity strategy above all else.
• The digital enthusiast, who values social media acuity, digital content production and editing and coding skills highly.
• The quant, which focuses on data, analytics and how PR integrates with business processes.
Let’s look at the trends in the PR business to help determine which skills we really need:
1. Storytelling (and “story selling”)
There’s a difference between writing well and telling a story, and a good story is valuable currency today. Stories are sticky, relatable, and effective; these are the reasons stories are the cornerstone of the content marketing strategies and social media programs that are becoming enmeshed within public relations. But there’s more to storytelling than good writing.
Required skills: Curation. To develop a story that will gain traction with your audience, it’s necessary to spend a little time learning about their interests; otherwise, you risk missing the mark with them. Curate content (which is a fancy way of saying “find interesting stuff and share it) and see what sort of information (and format) resonates with your audience. Observe what they’re sharing (and re-sharing) too. The intelligence you glean will be invaluable to your writing process.
The ability to measure digital outcomes requires communicators to dust off their analytical skills, because “big data” is here to stay, and it is strongly informing communications. Knowing how to organize and crunch data, correlate results, and correctly interpret and apply data are core skills that enable communicators to turn the masses of data available to us into valuable business intelligence and ROI metrics.
Skills: Data analysis and advanced spreadsheet. The good news, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while, is that today’s spreadsheet programs like Excel include powerful data analysis functions that make things such as correlation and statistics work fast and easy. Developing advanced understanding of the spreadsheet programs and the data analysis toolkits they contain is an important first step.
3. Visual communications
The rise of the infographic and the emergence of platforms such as Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram—all of which trade heavily if not exclusively in visuals—has accelerated the trend of using visuals in PR. Harnessing multimedia and video to engage and attract audiences is rapidly becoming stock in trade for PR.
Skills: Visual thinking. Basic videography, photography, and design are important, as is the ability to develop visual concepts to accompany and illustrate messages. A bonus skill is multimedia production and editing skills. Even if you have a design team at your disposal, learning how to think about messages visually is an important skill, because communications are becoming more and more about art. If you don’t have a design team on hand, learning how to develop, edit, and publish visuals for campaigns is crucial.
4. Proactive and predictive monitoring
We’re in an age of radical transparency, which is fueled in part by the lightning-fast flow of information. Instead of monitoring “downstream”—that is, looking for media pick up that has been published—PR teams are switching gears and monitoring conversations and trends to predict events and communicate proactively. In a nutshell, PR can influence outcomes, rather than simply measuring them.
Skills: Social listening. Acuity with social media monitoring and understanding of social audiences is the cornerstone of good monitoring. Learn how to use a social media dashboard to evaluate what people are discussing and identify the recurring issues in your marketplace. Get involved in social media and industry discussion groups to observe first-hand how conversations work and how ideas flow.
Content marketing, search engine optimization, video production. None of it sounds like PR—or, more specifically, PR as we’ve traditionally thought of it. The truth is many public relations job descriptions are reading more like a catalogue of communications skills. The mushrooming demands on PR departments—and subsequently, on professional communicators—is in itself an important trend.
Skill: Learning. The ability to succeed in changing times is really part of the DNA for public relations. After all, this is the department that cuts its teeth on curve balls. The only thing predictable about PR is change. Make time in your day to read, practice, and learn.
What new skills have been most valuable to you?
Sarah Skerik is the vice president of social media at PR Newswire, which recently announced The Crowd-Sourced eBook: The Definitive Guide to Social Influencer Engagement and invites you to contribute.