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)

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.