Tools of the trade: Career Guide 2009

What makes the ultimate communications professional these days? PRWeek asked five esteemed professors for their thoughts

What makes the ultimate communications professional these days? PRWeek asked five esteemed professors for their thoughts.


Reese-Phifer professor of Advertising & Public Relations, University of Alabama

1) Ethical orientation. Doing the right thing and practicing the core values and professional standards of PR are vital to individual reputation, organizational success, and the profession's image and future.

2) Strategic decision-making ability. The ultimate PR pro is a strategic counselor who's engaged in important decision-making moments in the organization. This requires strategic-thinking skills, political astuteness, knowing how things get done, and access to the inner circle.

3) Writing skills. Virtually every communication, every message constructed and delivered by an organization, is rooted in the written word. Knowing how to successfully construct messages for diverse channels, individuals, and groups remains a foundation skill in the profession.

4) Verbal communication skills. The most powerful form of communication is face to face. Successful advocacy – for products, services, ideas, approaches, issues, budget allocations, and so forth – rests on being able to make persuasive and compelling arguments to others, face to face.

5) Vision for PR. How we see and understand PR has a lot to do with how we practice it. Seeing it as a powerful management function is a good step toward providing organizational leaders with a clear vision of the incredible value of professional PR.

Associate dean, Master of Professional Studies in Public Relations & Corporate Communications, Georgetown University

1) Engage stakeholders. Creating conversations requires new respect for your audiences, as well as an ability to let go of control.

2) Be comfortable with analytics. The abundance of new data generated through digital tools and applications requires greater numeric literacy and a commitment to measurement.

3) Embrace the blur. PR, advertising, marketing communications, and branding overlap in new ways. Today's communicators must be able to navigate multiple disciplines.

4) Work with absolute transparency. There are no secrets in the digital world. Embrace this new reality in everything that you do.

5) Use communications for social impact. Communicators have tremendous power. Use some of your time and talents to benefit society and create positive social change.


Clinical assistant professor, Master's Degree Program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, New York University

1) Thinker. Be creative, original, and relentless – a 21st-century Rodin, despite his public relations challenges and reputation-management issues, and with his ultimate career success.

2) Diplomat. Understand the history of politics, society, business, and PR, i.e., How did we get here? See if we've been here before and where we're headed. As Brian Solis says in PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences, “PR stands for public relations – again.”

3) CEO. The Holy Grail for many PR pros is “getting a seat at the table.” Understand business – reputable and disreputable – as Warren Buffett, Richard Fuld, AIG, Goldman Sachs and others do. Learn your business lessons well, even if they're not pretty.

4) Wizard. Master social media before it masters you. Social media's siren song (Twitter tweet?) is seductive. Listen, watch, and read all you want, but keep communications' purpose in mind.

5) Timekeeper. Know when it's time to go, unlike some recently fired CEOs. Timing is everything in your life and career. Don't stay too long at the fair, but work the room or your table while you're there.

Professor and director of PR studies; director, Strategic Communication and PR Center, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California

1) Critical thinking. Wikipedia defines critical thinking as “purposeful and reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do in response to observations, experience, verbal or written expressions, or arguments.” The ultimate pro will question all assumptions and see multiple points of view.

2) Intellectual curiosity. The ultimate pro will be repeatedly ambushed by a dizzying array of interest groups, emerging issues, media, etc., so for defensive purposes, he or she must have a hunger for information on just about everything that's going on. That said, I worry about the narrowing of curiosity that young folks may experience as a result of their natural tendency to seek information from sources that narrowcast to their current interests.

3) Ability to empathize with “the other.” A PR pro will be absolutely worthless (or worse) if he or she doesn't have a clue about the people at the other end of the line. We've long taught the importance of “understanding” audiences, but what's really needed in the new environment is something more akin to empathy. How can you have a productive discussion with someone who senses that you don't give a whit about his or her needs and interests?

4) Appreciation for the value of research. The ultimate pro will face many big questions and, in many cases, the answers (or at least some darn good hints) are already out there, waiting to be retrieved through solid research.

5) Chutzpah. A PR pro needs to be the champion not just of communication, but also of organizational integration, organizational evolution, and lots of other heady concepts. He or she will also have to sometimes be the bearer of unwelcome news and opinions. All that takes chutzpah, which Merriam-Webster's online dictionary describes as “supreme self-confidence; nerve, gall.”

Professor of public relations, School of Journalism & Mass Communications, San Jose State University

1) Be a media junkie. Absorb large quantities of information and track trend lines, issues that will impact your industry, employer, or clients.

2) Avoid a technician mentality. Hone your ability to be a strategic thinker and do creative problem-solving.

3) Get on management's wavelength. Be knowledgeable about business, economics, and the triple bottom line: profits, environment, and sustainability.

4) Develop global cultural literacy. Remember that there are no kangaroos in Austria.

5) Give something back. Mentor young professionals; be a vocal advocate for advancing PR ethics and professionalism.

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