In an era of click bait, short attention spans, and a broader choice of communication channels, those working in PR need to specialise and show expertise in areas that may have previously fallen outside of the traditional remit of PR. This is not to say that traditional PR skills are dead. On the contrary, with today’s shrinking newsrooms and news pages, these skills are more important than ever. However, these emerging skill sets are important to ensure that PR contributes where it really counts in the eyes of your boss or your client -at the bottom line of the business.
Skill #1: Keeping your cool in a crisis
When the going gets tough, how strategic are you? With so many companies weathering a reputational crisis over the past two years, it’s not surprising that crisis management is becoming a core executive skill for PR professionals.
When a crisis strikes, damage to corporate reputation is often one of the most costly impact areas. A PR professional who can keep their cool in a crisis and develop a swift and strategic plan to manage the situation is invaluable. Agencies and corporations are increasingly seeking PR talent that can offer counsel to CEOs and top executives when they find themselves in the media spotlight for the wrong reasons.
"The biggest cost of a crisis to a company’s bottom line is the impact on its Trust relationships with key stakeholders. If stakeholders don't trust a company, they won’t buy its products or services, listen to its advice or recommend it to family and friends," shared Ray Rudowski, Regional Director, Crisis Planning and Training at Edelman. "Good people also often leave a company following a crisis and it becomes harder to recruit new talent. This is why crisis planning and training are such a crucial investment. Having a practice area dedicated to training and planning provides Edelman with a clear differentiator."
Skill #2: Formulating a digital strategy
Digital channels and social media are no longer ‘new media’ – they are simply part of the evolving landscape within which today’s PR industry operates. While PR has always been and continues to be about brilliant story telling, this is even more critical across social media. According to the Weber Shandwick study, The Rising CCO, 73 per cent of global CCO’s are hiring more digital and social media experts in their departments, as social media becomes an increasingly important channel to connect with stakeholders.
It’s about much more than just knowing your way around Facebook. A holistic PR professional needs to be able to map a digital communications strategy, oversee its execution, analyse the results and demonstrate a deep knowledge of digital channels.
"Changes in technology and the ways in which people communicate and obtain information mean that a PR professional should never sit still," said James Hacking, Senior Vice President and Lead at BlueCurrent. "It is imperative for a PR professional to continually invest time and effort in learning about these trends and to work out which channel is the best for them to use to not only tell stories but ideally, and if possible, to engage with their target audience."
Skill #3: Understanding big data
Before the arrival of big data, PR professionals resorted to making informed estimates about audience demographics and interests. At best, perhaps they conducted a sample-sized survey. But today, it’s important for PR professionals to find the connection between data and the art of communications. George Lee, CIO of Goldman Sachs once said, "Ninety per cent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years… The ultimate question is really what insight and value can we draw from that data."
The link between data and communications helps craft the right message for the right audience through the right channel. This results in a more effective outcome for a PR campaign and ultimately a happier client.
We are beginning to see new roles created within agencies such as head of research and head of planning, giving PR professionals the opportunity to work with big data, resulting in more targeted PR campaigns. There is a growing demand for PR talent who can analyse large amounts of data pertaining to search behaviours, engagement patterns on social media platforms and most importantly, understanding how to measure the associated contribution toward achieving business objectives.
"Social media may provide a lot of data," explained Rosemary Merz, Vice President & Managing Consultant at Text100 Hong Kong, "but its value can only be realised if people know how to interpret it.
"As the sophistication of measurement across social networks continues to develop, PR professionals must become more proficient in interpreting data so they can harness its potential for their clients."
While the core skills in PR will remain, the media industry has evolved and the PR role must evolve with it. In 2015, that means staying ahead of the curve by being skilled in crisis management, digital strategy and big data analysis. In 2016, a whole new set of skills may be required. One thing is clear from our observations - the best PR professionals are agile, adaptable and always learning and developing new skills.