LexisNexis' research into 'The Evolving Skillset of a Modern PR professional' inspired the panel session reported below. Download the full ebook here.
The role of a communications practitioner is changing at a breakneck pace – and the industry is undergoing a period of re-evaluation and soul searching.
The increasing importance of social-media management, multimedia content creation, creativity and data analysis has ushered in a convergence of a disciplines for today’s comms professional.
During a panel session at PR360, moderated by LexisNexis VP of global strategy Pim Stouton, executives from YouTube, Tumblr, National Trust and Smart Energy GB predicted what lies in store for the future practitioner and the organisations they work within.
Stouton argued that we are living at a time where the famous "sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast" quotation from Alice in Wonderland has become a reality. The session revealed the four key skills every comms professional now needs…
1) Understand the new rules of engagement
Against this turbulent backdrop Tom Barker, head of digital at the National Trust, highlighted how in the last two years he has had to change his engagement strategy radically.
"When I started at the National Trust [two years ago] we did not have anything in place for live streaming or 360º-video," he said. "It was not because we were not prepared for it, it was because it did not exist."
He argued the online world is changing faster than organisations can understand and "certainly they can’t adapt within that time".
Katherine Barna, head of communications at Tumblr, pointed out that to say her job role is constantly changing is "the understatement of the century".
When she began in PR ten years ago she was still faxing press releases.
"Now I run communications, CSR, public policy," she said. "I never thought I’d be someone who would spend so much of my time lobbying."
2) Become flexible specialists
To handle the rapidly changing landscape YouTube EMEA communications and public affairs exec Zayna Aston said she looks for someone "who is able to be fast and flexible, not risk averse, and willing to embrace this hectic medium".
Aston believes that "hunger and ambition" is of the utmost importance and that new hires do not necessarily need to have a communications qualification.
Where possible Barna likes to hire a specialist where she has the luxury of doing so.
"I prefer to let them run and go deep on that specialty," said Barna. "I also think of myself as more of a generalist."
Barker said there is "no one size fits all" – and that his acid test is to hire people who constantly ask questions and absorb as much as they can about the industry.
To attract the best talent Smart Energy GB director of policy and communications Claire Maugham believes organisations "have to be very clear about what you stand for as an employer".
"We define this as craft, cause and a great working environment," said Maugham. "It is about how you make people feel as an individual."
3) Give the chance to grow
Offering opportunities for employees to grow within their role is vital when it comes to retention, according to Barna.
"No one wants to go into a new positon and sit there and be stagnant and not learn anything for a couple of years," said Barna.
Another key to retention in the eyes of Aston is making the day to day "exciting and stimulating".
"What I tend to offer is this idea of creativity," she said. "I want to generate big and bold ideas, I want to do things differently and I’m not afraid of innovation."
Maugham concluded that in this new era organisations need to shake off the old fashioned views of the past.
"I find it really important to break through this shared myth that in any job you will be there until the day you retire and to vocalise anything else is somehow disloyal, and I talk about that from the first interview," she said.
4) Understand roles not job titles
Barker believes the head of digital role will continue to exist for the immediate future. "There’s been a lot of press in the past year saying digital is so ubiquitous should it not just be part of every marketer’s function," said Barker. "That would probably be true if things did not keep changing and evolving."
Barna highlighted Tumblr has never had a head of digital role because it is a "digital first" company.
"Every piece of the strategy has digital built into it but a lot of what Tom [Barker] does I see in our media roles and our product manager roles and our marketing and operations roles," said Barna.
Download the LexisNexis ebook that researched ‘The Evolving Skillset of a Modern PR Professional’. It delivers insights into the four key skills you, as a modern PR Professional, need to evolve and embrace to future-proof your role.