A mix of skills—new and old—that PR pros must master

PR pros must adapt to new tools and trends, but some tactics never go out of style. Here are four skills every PR pro should cultivate.

The role of a PR professional has expanded into so many areas—digital, social media, marketing—that it’s hard to know what skills are required to do this multifaceted and wide-ranging job.

I recently caught up with PR consultant Michael Smart who shared four essential skills—two old and two new—that all PR pros must have to succeed today.

How many can you check off your list?

Timeless skills

1. The ability to write a simple declarative sentence will never become outdated.

To advance ideas and pitch stories, it is critical that you hone your writing skills.

Clarity and brevity are key when reaching out to journalists. Does the lightbulb go on when they read your prose? Can they understand exactly what you’re trying to convey and why it’s important? Will they care?

Many journalists get 400 emails a day, so to pierce the noise you must make your case with a few well-worded sentences. Reporters are writers and particularly critical of the prose they receive. If it’s grammatically incorrect, unconvincing or inaccurate, your credibility as a professional will be questioned.

2. Always identify and understand your key audiences.

While every PR pro dreams of a placement in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, the readers of those venerated publications may not actually be the audience for your message.

Before devising a media list or strategy, it’s critical to identify who you need to reach — who will buy your product or service? How old are they, where do they live and what are they reading, watching and consuming? Once you have a clear picture of your audience, you can decide which media outlets are worth targeting and design your pitches accordingly.

Two essential new skills

1. Match your content to your intended platform.

The days of penning a press release and sending it to 200 reporters are over. With the proliferation of online outlets and social media influencers, you will need to reshape the same story for each platform.

Though a news service may still be interested in seeing a press release or a new research study, an online outlet may prefer a video of the professor in the lab showing how he works and explaining his key findings. You could alternatively do an Instagram story highlighting a day in the life of a scientist.

It’s important to pick which outlets reach your target audience and then put forth the effort to create content that will play well on the specific medium.

You also need to be flexible and savvy enough to adapt your outreach to the individual habits of the reporter or influencer. Know who wants an email at 7 a.m. and know who only reads Twitter notifications. It’s a lot more work, but the results from personalizing both your pitch and method of outreach will be worthwhile.

2. Be willing to abandon old structures—and break the rules.

AP style still has its place but because pitching today is so individual, the way you write for a Buzzfeed pitch cannot possibly follow those guidelines. If you can adapt your style to the outlet’s style and show that you understand what they do and what their audience is all about, you’ll be more likely to catch their attention.

Bonus tip

In the past, you would never follow up with a reporter more than twice. Be prepared to follow your instinct, not an antiquated rule.

If you’ve done your homework, crafted a well-written pitch that’s right up the alley of the reporter in terms of topics of interest, then keep following up until you get an answer. Chances are he or she may not even have seen it. Now that people can call, text, email or tweet at a reporter, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for them to go through all their messages and do their job. If you can follow up in a respectful fashion and include more useful information, you can try to reach out again and still get a hit.

The PR industry has changed drastically and you’ll need to use both old and new skills to succeed today. To quote Michael Smart, “If you spend 80 percent of your time on the 20 percent of your list that are most influential to your audience, you’ll be successful.”

Ellie Schlam is a PR pro with experience in nonprofit, health and education, currently Executive Director of Communications and Marketing at Touro College and University System. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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