Those who succeed in public relations must be naturally good at communicating, right?
Not always. PR has changed dramatically over the past few years, which calls for new or enhanced skills. Professional communicators today are more likely to be reaching customers or constituencies directly than merely going through the filter of media. And many of us have a core strength or comfort zone that works well, so we don’t always flex other muscles. I’m more comfortable writing my mind than speaking it, but I know colleagues who are shockingly articulate or visually creative yet who struggle with blogging or writing.
Here are some of the most essential skills for PR pros.
Digital content creation. It’s no secret that quality writing is an issue in public relations, even with the influx of journalists into the business. Writing for the web affords more flexibility in style and format than ever before, but written content must still be clear, compelling, grammatical, and enhanced with appropriate keywords (not stuffed).
But written content and creative visualizations like infographics represent only one dimension, of course. What’s growing faster than written content is video, particularly adapted for mobile devices. We can’t all be videographers, but even the most dedicated word nerd needs to understand – and literally see – how content is consumed and what makes it shareable.
Public speaking. Some dread it, but you can only hide behind your keyboard or smartphone for so long if you want a real career in PR. Presenting program recommendations with confidence in front of a group of strangers, and doing it with flair and showmanship, is a core agency skill, critical for closing new clients and selling programs to existing ones. It’s also valuable on the corporate side, where communications outcomes and the merits of the PR investment need to be continually proven.
Brevity and clarity of communications. There’s something about a keyboard that makes it easier to vomit out the words and bury the request or recommendation in a stream of corporate jargon. Yes, it’s harder to whittle down that email to its essentials or to strip the buzzspeak from a one-paragraph pitch. But in today’s environment, where we’re all prioritizing how we spend our time and what we read, it’s vital.
Respectful pushback. In the agency business many of us equate good client service with high levels of responsiveness or even compliance, but no client wants a yes-person leading their agency team. Respectful pushback, however, requires thoughtfulness, an ego-free attitude, and a deft touch.
Constructive feedback. It may be easier to describe that half-baked proposal as “too long” or to point out the lack of creative ideas. But it’s more helpful to ask the writer to cut out the third section, reduce another by half and suggest she develop that nugget that came up in the brainstorm last week. In the latter example, the feedback is clearer, more specific, more actionable, and more constructive.
Active listening. Our clients and associates range from management-trained marketing MBAs to twentysomething entrepreneurs with a bold vision. We’re lucky that most communicate skillfully and clearly, but not everyone is so fortunate. Most people are uncomfortable offering criticism (see above) and some don’t articulate expectations well. Even more importantly, active listening in the workplace can make a world of difference when it comes to cooperation and staff retention. Being heard is important to everyone, even when they don’t say so.