14 Key Skills & Attributes For New Public Relations Professionals

Public relations has changed significantly over the last few years. Even if you don’t buy into the idea that online communities and relationships are part of the public relations function, it’s hard to deny the rising importance of blogs, the gradual decline of traditional media and the impact that online conversations can have on brands. If you do believe that public relations should include these new activities, then there’s a whole new board game to be played.

Along the same lines, the skills that new PR grads need have evolved too.

Here are my thoughts on 14 skills and attributes a new PR professional needs in today’s market.

Traditional Skills/Attributes

Yes, there’s a new game to play (in my opinion), but the old game is still there too. PR pros still need the basic attributes and skills that they’ve always needed.  Try launching something using social media alone and you’ll appreciate the gap that traditional media can leave if it’s lacking. So, entry-level PR professionals still need to be proficient at (among other things):

  • Writing – the cornerstone of a PR professional’s career. If you’re not confident about your writing skills, brush up. You’ll need them. Learn how to write a news release – study those produced by other organizations and practice for yourself.
  • Communications skills – I’m talking ‘small c’ communications here rather than the ‘big c.’ Learn to communicate more effectively with other people
  • Attention to detail – because nothing will drive your colleagues (and, if you’re unlucky enough for your work to make it there, your clients) mad like poorly-edited work. Proofread everything. Fact check everything. Hand things to your supervisor when you would be happy with them going to the client.
  • Media relations – you’ll probably be doing media relations throughout the majority of your career. You may not have had an opportunity to do it for yourself as a new graduate, but an understanding of the basics is certainly an advantage – what’s in a media list? What are the pitching best practices?
  • Proactiveness – if you don’t know an answer to a question, first try to research the answer. If you can’t find the answer, ask. Whatever you do, don’t just sit there until you approach the deadline for your work.
  • Work ethic – public relations isn’t a 9-to-5 job. It shouldn’t take over your life, but the nature of the work is that sometimes you’ll have last-minute deadlines and sometimes you’ll have to chip-in to help others. There’s nothing worse for more senior team members than watching the more junior ones walk out of the door at 5pm then having to stay there until 9pm themselves. Put in that little bit of extra effort. It won’t be every day, but people will notice.

New Skills/Attributes

Alongside the regular attributes that I think new PR pros should have, I would add a whole new list of attributes related to the online work. Among these I would include:

  • Blogging - you don’t necessarily need to have one (although it’s a big plus), but an understanding of the importance of blogs and an interest in their use, is essential in my view.
  • Microblogging - it’s still an emerging technology, but I would argue that an understanding of microblogging tools (the primary one currently being Twitter)  is essential for new grads.
  • Social networking tools – Facebook, MySpace LinkedIn, Plaxo and more – there’s a plethora of social networking tools out there. An understanding of the leading social networks is desirable.
  • SEO - some parts of search engine optimization are quite technical, but others are very simple and require little technical knowledge. An understanding of the basics is highly valuable. This leads to my next point…
  • Coding - basic HTML, PHP, VBScript and so on are not critical skills, but I find them useful on a daily basis.
  • RSS, RSS Readers – I consider an understanding of RSS to be central to people doing any work in social media. For one thing, RSS turns monitoring multiple searches and sites every day into a manageable task. For another, it helps when providing recommendations to clients.
  • Blogger relations – understand the nuances of blogger relations.
  • Social media ethics – everyone has their own lines when it comes to ethics. Know where yours lie and how you feel about topics like astroturfing, ghost blogging, sock puppets and other common ethical issues (I’ve given my on astroturfing and ghost blogging several times recently).

It’s hard to find someone with all of these attributes. If you’re honest with yourself, you’re probably stronger in some of these areas than others. Figure out which areas are your weakest, and work on them.

I’ve probably missed a whole bunch of attributes here. PR pros, new and old – what would you add?

Update (8/25): Some great comments already. Additions to the list include:

(Hat tip to Dave Jones for sparking the idea for this post)

47 comments
Tony Washington
Tony Washington

I still think as a good PR person one must still be concerned about our reputations and our community contacts. I dont think we need to fool the new PR people into thinking because your title is PR Manager that the media, or perspective donor etc will call you back . The fact is many times getting return phone calls or even emails is based on past personal history or your reputation in community in which you live and work. 

Amy Dean
Amy Dean

I think creativity is the cornerstone of public relations. Writing is one offshoot of creative thinking. Young PR folks will need to bring bold ideas to the table to breakthrough the deafening noise of this fragmented marketplace. Clients, managers, etc. are too busy to spoon feed them ideas and content. Be inspired or get fired young ones.

fivefiveten
fivefiveten

Very relevant stuff here... Especially the 'small c' communications. I'm always surprised by the number of PR pros that have issues communicating w/ clients.

The Product Review Place
The Product Review Place

Couldn't agree with you more. I think having knowledge of social media laws/regulations (FTC, etc.) and how it pertains to your business is important. Great article I will share with my colleagues.

The Product Review Place
The Product Review Place

Couldn't agree with you more. I think having knowledge of social media laws/regulations (FTC, etc.) and how it pertains to your business is important. Great article I will share with my colleagues.

Barb Chamberlain
Barb Chamberlain

Jeff Donald mentioned political/policy understanding. Public affairs is part of my background and my responsibilities and I'd agree this is critical. If your client's goal is to influence legislation, knowing the touch points and steps in the process are critical. Understanding the congressional calendar when you plan an event at which you hope to feature a Member is just one example.
I'd add an understanding of community relations IRL as a corollary.
- How do you understand who your community's influencers and leaders are, and how do you reach them?
- What are the key community boards you'd advise your client or organization to plug into so your leadership is connected, for example?
- Do you have a master list of key invitees for major events, sorted by organization and sector so you have a health care list, an education list, a manufacturing list, an arts list, and so forth?
- Do you know who to sit down with for key briefings so they've heard the message straight from the right person and will communicate it to their circles of influence?

This is good old-fashioned word of mouth work with strategic targeting, and it takes time and skill.

I'd tell every new PR professional to pick something he/she is passionate about and get involved on a community board or in another leadership role (OUTSIDE the PR profession itself), as a way of starting to understand and plug in.

@BarbChamberlain

Barb Chamberlain
Barb Chamberlain

Jeff Donald mentioned political/policy understanding. Public affairs is part of my background and my responsibilities and I'd agree this is critical. If your client's goal is to influence legislation, knowing the touch points and steps in the process are critical. Understanding the congressional calendar when you plan an event at which you hope to feature a Member is just one example. I'd add an understanding of community relations IRL as a corollary. - How do you understand who your community's influencers and leaders are, and how do you reach them? - What are the key community boards you'd advise your client or organization to plug into so your leadership is connected, for example? - Do you have a master list of key invitees for major events, sorted by organization and sector so you have a health care list, an education list, a manufacturing list, an arts list, and so forth? - Do you know who to sit down with for key briefings so they've heard the message straight from the right person and will communicate it to their circles of influence? This is good old-fashioned word of mouth work with strategic targeting, and it takes time and skill. I'd tell every new PR professional to pick something he/she is passionate about and get involved on a community board or in another leadership role (OUTSIDE the PR profession itself), as a way of starting to understand and plug in. @BarbChamberlain

Giles Crouch (Webconomist)
Giles Crouch (Webconomist)

Excellent list and comments...I'd add some background in Social Anthroplogy specific to how groups and organizations form.

I find understanding social behaviour to be a great method of predicting how groups are forming and how to better engage with them.

Giles Crouch (Webconomist)
Giles Crouch (Webconomist)

Excellent list and comments...I'd add some background in Social Anthroplogy specific to how groups and organizations form. I find understanding social behaviour to be a great method of predicting how groups are forming and how to better engage with them.

Bill Smith
Bill Smith

Great list, as someone transitioning into the field this helps (got most of the attributes). I would understanding the role of Corporate Social Responsibility in the bigger PR picture and I would not stress ethics enough. Considering where the economy has been this past year, I think everyone needs a stronger moral compass.

Bill Smith
Bill Smith

Great list, as someone transitioning into the field this helps (got most of the attributes).

I would understanding the role of Corporate Social Responsibility in the bigger PR picture and I would not stress ethics enough. Considering where the economy has been this past year, I think everyone needs a stronger moral compass.

Robin Browne
Robin Browne

I'd add skills in social media measurement as greatly improved measurement is one of the key advantages of new media over old. Knowing what measurements are valuable and which are bogus (# of hits) is a key skill.

Robin Browne
Robin Browne

I'd add skills in social media measurement as greatly improved measurement is one of the key advantages of new media over old. Knowing what measurements are valuable and which are bogus (# of hits) is a key skill.

Jeff Donald
Jeff Donald

Nice list. I might add some political skills or at least awareness. There aren't many industries these days that don't find themselves interacting at some point with the federal and/or state and local government. Knowing the players and processes can be crucial in deciding how to message an issue or develop a communications strategy.

Jeff Donald
Jeff Donald

Nice list. I might add some political skills or at least awareness. There aren't many industries these days that don't find themselves interacting at some point with the federal and/or state and local government. Knowing the players and processes can be crucial in deciding how to message an issue or develop a communications strategy.

Jacob Nelson
Jacob Nelson

You have shared an excellent information. It is really very useful for efficient running of the businessbusiness

Jacob Nelson
Jacob Nelson

You have shared an excellent information. It is really very useful for efficient running of the businessbusiness

Louise Armstrong
Louise Armstrong

Great post Dave. I don't really have anything to add but would reinforce the acceptance that PR, and especially agency PR, is not 9 to 5. In my 20-year career, I don't know how many times I've had a fresh-faced job candidate nod vigorously when I explain that it's not 9 to 5 only to have them complain about work/life balance when it's time to put it into practice.

Louise Armstrong
Louise Armstrong

Great post Dave. I don't really have anything to add but would reinforce the acceptance that PR, and especially agency PR, is not 9 to 5. In my 20-year career, I don't know how many times I've had a fresh-faced job candidate nod vigorously when I explain that it's not 9 to 5 only to have them complain about work/life balance when it's time to put it into practice.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

How about balls, mate? I'm worried that we're turning the PR industry into one of much toothlessness (yes, I think that's the right grammar!), with fewer people willing to stand up for themselves because of how social media reacts. Instead of just deferring to someone's viewpoint, or taking heat, just because that someone has more armies than you, stand up and say, "No, you're wrong and here's why." There are too many apologies being made when there's scant need for the majority of them. And that's concerning.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

How about balls, mate?

I'm worried that we're turning the PR industry into one of much toothlessness (yes, I think that's the right grammar!), with fewer people willing to stand up for themselves because of how social media reacts.

Instead of just deferring to someone's viewpoint, or taking heat, just because that someone has more armies than you, stand up and say, "No, you're wrong and here's why."

There are too many apologies being made when there's scant need for the majority of them. And that's concerning.

Allan Schoenberg
Allan Schoenberg

Yikes...burning the midnight oil here in Chicago. That reference to "you graduates" should be "young graduates". BTW, I'm using the post for my first lecture of the semester tomorrow.

Allan Schoenberg
Allan Schoenberg

Yikes...burning the midnight oil here in Chicago. That reference to "you graduates" should be "young graduates". BTW, I'm using the post for my first lecture of the semester tomorrow.

Allan Schoenberg
Allan Schoenberg

Dave -- Glad to see you commented back to Amy, Davina, Cassie, Stephanie. I was getting nervous. I have to say that the biggest disappointment of seeing you graduates is a fundamental lack of understanding how a business runs. I'll give props to my undergrad -- Central Michigan University -- for having the students run an actual PR agency for real clients. These students get to understand customer service, account management, finance, and what a client actually demands from communications to help run their business. As an adjunct professor I tell my students to take an intro to finance or economics class to at least know the concepts (better to even minor in either). Hopefully the next generation of public relations degrees include more business acumen in their programs. The profession would certainly benefit.

Allan Schoenberg
Allan Schoenberg

Dave -- Glad to see you commented back to Amy, Davina, Cassie, Stephanie. I was getting nervous. I have to say that the biggest disappointment of seeing you graduates is a fundamental lack of understanding how a business runs. I'll give props to my undergrad -- Central Michigan University -- for having the students run an actual PR agency for real clients. These students get to understand customer service, account management, finance, and what a client actually demands from communications to help run their business. As an adjunct professor I tell my students to take an intro to finance or economics class to at least know the concepts (better to even minor in either). Hopefully the next generation of public relations degrees include more business acumen in their programs. The profession would certainly benefit.

Promotional Products
Promotional Products

This is such an applicable article now in this social media and economic age. PR agents must be diverse and adaptable in their skills in order to relate to a wide spectrum of potential clients.

Promotional Products
Promotional Products

This is such an applicable article now in this social media and economic age. PR agents must be diverse and adaptable in their skills in order to relate to a wide spectrum of potential clients.

Meg Sinclair
Meg Sinclair

Thanks for the list, Dave. I would add basic video shooting and editing skills to this list - especially in an agency environment. Creating digital content doesn't just mean writing. PR pros need to be able to tell their clients' stories in other ways as well. Thoughts?

Meg Sinclair
Meg Sinclair

Thanks for the list, Dave. I would add basic video shooting and editing skills to this list - especially in an agency environment. Creating digital content doesn't just mean writing. PR pros need to be able to tell their clients' stories in other ways as well. Thoughts?

David Jones
David Jones

I didn't think you were seriously going to write this up. Thanks for doing it. Great list. I can now get back to the commenter who sparked this question on my blog.

David Jones
David Jones

I didn't think you were seriously going to write this up. Thanks for doing it. Great list. I can now get back to the commenter who sparked this question on my blog.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Amy, Davina, Cassie, Stephanie - I completely agree regarding business fundamentals. What's more, I would also add math to the list - a basic competency that I find essential every day.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Amy, Davina, Cassie, Stephanie - I completely agree regarding business fundamentals. What's more, I would also add math to the list - a basic competency that I find essential every day.

Stephanie Mrus (@smrus)
Stephanie Mrus (@smrus)

Great post, Dave. I'd add two additional elements: a fundamental understanding of business financials and operations and an ability to multitask (or juggle).

As mentioned previously, PR pros should understand how a business operates, business "lingo", how business performance is measured and how PR contributes to this performance. They'll have to be able to justify their activities and budgets, showing concretely how they believe they could impact lead generation and ultimately, the bottom line.

I don't believe I've ever had a day as a PR professional when I was able to focus on one thing and one thing only. The "to do" list shuffles perpetually as new tasks or "fire fights" arise. Good news: keeping several balls in the air successfully is a trick that can be honed on the job. It may take some longer than others, but it can be learned.

Stephanie Mrus (@smrus)
Stephanie Mrus (@smrus)

Great post, Dave. I'd add two additional elements: a fundamental understanding of business financials and operations and an ability to multitask (or juggle). As mentioned previously, PR pros should understand how a business operates, business "lingo", how business performance is measured and how PR contributes to this performance. They'll have to be able to justify their activities and budgets, showing concretely how they believe they could impact lead generation and ultimately, the bottom line. I don't believe I've ever had a day as a PR professional when I was able to focus on one thing and one thing only. The "to do" list shuffles perpetually as new tasks or "fire fights" arise. Good news: keeping several balls in the air successfully is a trick that can be honed on the job. It may take some longer than others, but it can be learned.

Cassie Cramer
Cassie Cramer

I second the comment @amymengel made about business savvy. There have been many times where my two years in a business program have helped me effectively communicate a concept or an objective to an executive. Understanding basic business terms and knowing how to use them is essential.

Cassie Cramer
Cassie Cramer

I second the comment @amymengel made about business savvy. There have been many times where my two years in a business program have helped me effectively communicate a concept or an objective to an executive. Understanding basic business terms and knowing how to use them is essential.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Linda - I agree. I've included social media ethics here to illustrate that there's a different set of situations and nuances in online media, but you're right - it's important in general.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Linda - I agree. I've included social media ethics here to illustrate that there's a different set of situations and nuances in online media, but you're right - it's important in general.

Linda Ld Jacobson, APR
Linda Ld Jacobson, APR

Dave,
This is a great list, but I'd add ethics to it. Without some sort of moral compass, you're going to get new PR pros who will say anything and never think twice about it. (I'm thinking Reverb here.) Thanks for the discussion on this!

Linda Ld Jacobson, APR
Linda Ld Jacobson, APR

Dave, This is a great list, but I'd add ethics to it. Without some sort of moral compass, you're going to get new PR pros who will say anything and never think twice about it. (I'm thinking Reverb here.) Thanks for the discussion on this!

Davina K. Brewer
Davina K. Brewer

I'm still adding skills, improving talents as an "old" PR professional. A lot of the old abilities like writing, research and attention to detail relate to the new; learning how writing a release is different than writing a blog post.

ITA with Amy Mengel that PR practitioners needing business skills, and should have an understanding of finance, marketing, economics, etc. to know how the communications program is part of the business.

Davina K. Brewer
Davina K. Brewer

I'm still adding skills, improving talents as an "old" PR professional. A lot of the old abilities like writing, research and attention to detail relate to the new; learning how writing a release is different than writing a blog post. ITA with Amy Mengel that PR practitioners needing business skills, and should have an understanding of finance, marketing, economics, etc. to know how the communications program is part of the business.

Amanda Laird
Amanda Laird

Great advice for new grads, Dave. The social media skill set is increasingly more important; especially as employers expect the new generation to be net and tech savvy as they enter the workforce. Employers are looking to younger employees to bring them up to speed.

Your list also serves as a good reminder of what those of us who have been around for a while might need to brush up on or review.

Amanda Laird
Amanda Laird

Great advice for new grads, Dave. The social media skill set is increasingly more important; especially as employers expect the new generation to be net and tech savvy as they enter the workforce. Employers are looking to younger employees to bring them up to speed. Your list also serves as a good reminder of what those of us who have been around for a while might need to brush up on or review.

amymengel
amymengel

I'd definitely add "business savvy" to the list and argue that PR professionals need a solid understanding of business financials and knowing what levers drive performance within a company. They need to be able to show that what a PR or communicaitons professional does (traditional OR new tactics) impacts performance/bottom line. They need to be able to speak business language, and that includes being comfortable talking about their work using the metrics and definitions that business operations managers use.

I see too many professionals who, for whatever reason, are uncomfortable in this area and then end up creating metrics or rationale for their work that they are comfortable with (the most common example lately is the notion that you can swap out terms like "Return on Engagement" or Return on Interaction" for true business metrics like Return on Investment). The problem is that these "squishy" business terms and measurements, while fun in a conceptual way, aren't actually how companies evaluate performance and make decisions about funding projects.

amymengel
amymengel

I'd definitely add "business savvy" to the list and argue that PR professionals need a solid understanding of business financials and knowing what levers drive performance within a company. They need to be able to show that what a PR or communicaitons professional does (traditional OR new tactics) impacts performance/bottom line. They need to be able to speak business language, and that includes being comfortable talking about their work using the metrics and definitions that business operations managers use. I see too many professionals who, for whatever reason, are uncomfortable in this area and then end up creating metrics or rationale for their work that they are comfortable with (the most common example lately is the notion that you can swap out terms like "Return on Engagement" or Return on Interaction" for true business metrics like Return on Investment). The problem is that these "squishy" business terms and measurements, while fun in a conceptual way, aren't actually how companies evaluate performance and make decisions about funding projects.

Trackbacks

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