Ask Renee...What skills do I need for a successful career in PR?

Wannabe PR pros need a whole new range of expertise to prosper in the modern world, allied with legacy skills that never go out of fashion.

Technology and globalization continue to rapidly change how PR pros work, counsel, communicate, and engage.

As a result, the skills, knowledge, and expertise required for a successful PR and communications career have dramatically evolved.

I see many firms across the U.S. reinventing their talent base. Some roles remain needed but are less vital; other roles, like strategic planners, data analysts, and creative directors, are rapidly rising in importance.

If the PR industry wants to tap into more marketing budgets, we need to retool and engage different types of skill bases.

While scores of newspapers and magazines are downsizing or failing, the duopoly of Google and Facebook and a range of new online news sites and social apps expand their influential information offerings, exponentially grow their global online audiences, and generate billions of dollars in new revenue.

And today’s employee audiences are likely to be decentralized in locations around the world, often working independently and remotely. No one is better suited to help the C-suite manage communicating with its employees than the PR practitioner.

The ability of PR pros to reach, involve, and influence audiences has become far more complex than placing positive stories in a small, well-defined pool of newspapers, magazines, and blogs, on radio and TV, and on company intranets. Social media understanding is essential and critical.

These are the skills in high demand needed to build a successful career filled with increasing responsibilities, challenges, and rewards:

Research, analytics, and data-based decision making

Successful PR pros must know how to prioritize intelligence and insight over activities. This means having the skills to gather data about audience beliefs and behaviors to create influential campaigns, and analyze this data to develop communication that improves business outcomes. Skilled PR leaders understand how data can drive communications strategy, connect with audiences, create measurable impact, and demonstrate value. They also use data to create compelling narratives. This is not simply a new department within agencies and client companies, rather it is a universal skillset needed by all PR pros.

Tech-based strategic communications

Future PR leaders must be skilled in applying communications strategies and practices across all aspects of new and emerging technology. This is not just for practitioners in the tech industry. Talent needs to be fluent in reaching audiences with compelling written, visual, and audio content across an ever-increasing range of new devices, platforms, apps, channels, and broadcasts. They’ll also need to be skilled in evaluating, real time, how and when audiences use and react to campaign information and messaging.


Today’s C-suites demand to know the value of their marketing and communications expenses. Successful PR pros must be skilled in measuring and sharing campaign results. Marketing pioneer and American retailer John Wannamaker famously quipped, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half." Today, most C-suite execs demand cause-and-effect correlation. Communications initiatives that don’t show proven results risk being swiftly eliminated.

Business acumen

This is one of the most important requirement for success. PR pros, like their C-suite bosses and clients, must understand the business dynamics of their companies and clients. They must understand their markets, global business trends, and the drivers of profit and loss. And they must use this knowledge to create effective and successful communications campaigns that achieve profitable results. While rapid change in our industry has broadened the skills needed to grow and succeed, the following legacy capabilities remain in demand, especially among senior PR leaders:

Intelligent and informed counsel

PR pros who provide thoughtful, experienced advice that builds market share, improves company reputation, or overcomes a crisis will become trusted advisers whose opinions are sought out by CEOs and their colleagues.

Strong writing

Strong writing is like oxygen – you can’t survive in this business without it. As Weber Shandwick CEO Andy Polansky says, "Good writing is still at the core of all great communications campaigns."

Media relations

C-suite execs always value positive news coverage and the ability to avoid headline risk and overcome negative coverage. PR pros who master earned media story development that yields third-party editorial endorsement will continue to be appreciated by agencies and clients.

In order to become valued partners of companies and clients, PR’s leaders of tomorrow must develop expertise in new communications tools and techniques required for creating and measuring meaningful conversations, successful campaigns, and clients’ financial success.

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