Surprise! The function of public relations is changing in some very fundamental ways!
But you knew that. You know PR has to change. The way that news is created and consumed, the way that public opinion is formed, and the way that brands connect with an audience have all undergone a systemic shift in recent years. Whoever said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” hasn’t been paying attention. Roughly nine-in-ten adults (93%) ever get news online, and the online space has become a host for the digital homes of both legacy news outlets and new, “born on the web” news outlets. This new reality means a new set of skills to survive. Sure, some of the basic things we’ve always done will continue to be important, but what sets a great PR pro apart will involve some new skills.
You don’t need to take our word for what they are. USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations and the Association of National Advertisers conducted a survey of 875 public relations professionals. One thing they asked was, “What are the most important skills for future growth?” Here’s what they said.
Strategic Planning (89%)
A whopping 89% of respondents listed strategic planning as the most essential skill. We couldn’t agree more. Yet, in a TrendKite survey of the same audience, PR pros said their executive teams values PR as a brand awareness function. Yes, PR Pros often have to respond to outside events, but the ones who will win the day are those who control the conversation, align PR and marketing activities with the strategic goals of the organization, and execute efficiently.
Written Communications (86%)
The need to craft clear and compelling messages and tell the brand’s story in a way that inspires trust will never go away. But a new challenge is ensuring that written communications are appropriate for the channel on which they are delivered. Composing a Tweet is a different thing than a LinkedIn post or a media pitch. And a pitch to a tech writer about your new software is very different than your pitch the the tech pub for which the software will serve. Segmentation is increasingly important.
Social Media (84%)
We find it very telling that social media ranked well above “media relations” on this survey. Modern PR pros must be very adept at using social media to spread the brand’s key messages and also responding to negative information that can spread like wildfire over the networks. In fact, almost 60% of PR teams said they will be expanding their reach in social media for the foreseeable future.
Multimedia Content Development (82%)
Effective PR these days involves a whole lot more than writing great content. You’ve got to be prepared to support it with images, video, infographics, eBooks, and more if you want your message to stand out to both journalists and the public. Smart pros are crossing the aisle and taking a note from content marketers: learn to repurpose the same ideas in multiple formats for the biggest impact.
Verbal Communications (80%)
We talk a lot about “conversations” in terms of social media threads and comments on content, but conversations happen IRL as well. The ability to clearly communicate on the phone and in person is as important as ever. Facebook Live, Instagram stories, vlogs, and other platforms give us the chance to verbally communicate to the masses as well.
Today’s PR teams can’t use anecdote or guesses to figure out what is working and what to do next. We must make decisions that are driven by data to help us find our target audience, publications, and influencers. We must apply information about past performance to determine which step to take next. The ability to understand and use advanced PR analytics software is crucial. 68% of PR pros are 'frequently logging into' web analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics.
Media Relations (68%)
Earned media will continue to be an important part of PR work. The key today is hyper-personalization and targeting. Journalists, like all of us, are overwhelmed with incoming messages. PR pros that stand out will be those that can deliver story ideas to exactly the right person, at the right time, and with the right assets to make the decision to do the story a no-brainer.
Business Literacy (64%)
This is an interesting inclusion on the list. It seems rather obvious, but I don’t think it would have come up five years ago. PR is an increasingly complex function and understanding how the business works and where it is headed is key.
Search Engine Optimization (51%)
This is another one that I don’t think would have made the list five to ten years ago. SEO was long seen as a marketing problem, not a PR one. But these days people realize that PR can have an enormous impact on SEO. (Not through keyword stuffed press releases, however.) Earned media from credible publications with natural backlinks can make all of the difference in terms of search.
This is where the role of PR pro is headed. If you are already there, congratulations, preach it to the masses. If you aren’t quite proficient in all of these areas yet, that’s OK, but it is essential to map out your path to developing each of these skills. No PR pro left behind!
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