top new PR skills, important skills for public relations careers

NH Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla Rorick

As public relations work continues to evolve with more functions and responsibilities in the new media landscape, PR pros must embrace new skills to bolster their career prospects. More people now get their news on social media. More consumers prefer to view videos than read. More business executives require proven, quantified PR results. The PR and marketing functions continue to merge.

PR managers hiring or promoting staff still demand writing, research, and relationship-building skills, but PR pros who learn new skills are more likely to thrive. A successful career in public relations now requires more than a college degree and a friendly personality. Those desiring to  flourish in PR need to master additional skills.

For long-term success, PR pros must embrace constant learning. New software programs, social media networks and technology tools always appear and some become widely popular – and a necessary part of PR.

“In a media environment where constant change is the norm, and where the role of the PR professional continues to expand and evolve, ongoing professional development will be increasingly essential for PR pros across all levels of experience,” says Joe Cohen, national chair for Public Relations Society of America.

Main Skills to Strengthen PR Careers

These are the main skills that can strengthen a career in public relations.

Visual design acuity. Word skills are no longer enough in PR. The profession continues to become more image-focused. PR firms use software to design flyers, infographics, client invitations and other projects. Candidates with a basic knowledge of Publisher, Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign gain an advantage over competitors. Demonstrating your eye for photography, even if it’s taking iPhone photos, is a huge asset. If you have a digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, consider some of the many photography schools or online photography resources. Graphic design skills are relatively easy to acquire through YouTube videos, free or inexpensive courses online at community colleges or public libraries. Adobe also offers free online tutorial for those who purchase products.

“Before your next interview, build up a small portfolio of social media graphics and a flyer or event invite to demonstrate your understanding of design, composition and layout,” advises Lori Riviere, founder of The Riviere Agency, in the PR Couture blog.

Video.  Clearly, people view and share online videos more. Numerous research reports indicate that video is the best performing content on social media. Video attracts and holds attention of most people better than text. Videos can promote other types of content such as webinars, live events, ebooks, or even blog posts. They can explain products, give inside views of organizations, and promote company news. As Facebook, Instagram and other networks invest more in live streaming, live video offers a potential huge growth opportunity. Also, understanding video metrics allows PR to analyze the effectiveness of video marketing campaigns.

SEO. Website managers need well-implemented search engine optimization in addition to great content to improve search engine rankings and attract web traffic. While PR pros generally understand the importance of backlinks in guest blog posts and media pitches, they’re usually less adept at the more technical aspects of SEO. It’s now important to understand and adopt SEO fundamentals, such as keyword research, Google’s Search Console, basic HTML

Many PR practitioners just don’t realize how much they can do to optimize search results, but.PR has a leading role to play in building quality backlinks, a key SEO factor. Skills in content creation and storytelling can win substantial media placements and SEO benefits for their brands.

PR measurement. PR agencies and corporate communications departments now expect staff members to measure PR results with multiple metrics and demonstrate how PR contributes to business objectives like increased sales and improved return on investment. PR pros who excel at measurement understand Google Analytics, native analytics of social media platforms and, most importantly, media measurement services.  They know how to analyze and report share of voice, brand sentiment and other advanced metrics.

Measurement skills are in demand. Recruiters rank research, evaluation and measurement skills as one of the top five most desirable skills, according to the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) 2019 State of the Profession Survey in the UK. Yet it doesn’t rank among the perceived strongest skills of PR pros. Only 15% of those surveyed cite it as a common activity – 12th on the list.

PR pros well versed in data analytics will be better suited for PR measurement tasks. Many PR executives  say data analytics is one of the most important skills for PR people, perhaps now almost as important as traditional skills of writing and interpersonal communications, many say. College-level or online courses on statistics and data analytics can help advance careers. An advanced command of data analytics is valuable also for proper use of statistics in writing press releases and other PR content.

Social media listeningResearch shows that business executives believe social media listening is one of the most the most valuable services PR firms offer. Research also reveals that social media listening is one of the top public relations trends. Social media listening uncovers customer needs that current products aren’t meeting, helps evaluate customer support and sales, and gathers information about competitors – all expanded responsibilities for PR. By learning how to use a social media monitoring tool and sharing information with other departments, PR pros can gain huzzahs and advance their careers.

“If you’re not listening carefully to customers and prospects, you can be sure competitors are and they’ll be the ones reaping the benefits from providing products and services that better meet the needs of customers,” warns Angela Hausman, a marketing professor at Howard University and associate editor for the European Journal of Marketing, in a Business to Community post.

HTML. The ability to write HTML code in order to post content on websites, at least at the basic level, is now a must-have skill. You probably won’t be expected to code an entire site, but you should be able to fix a link or change a link color when needed. A grasp of HTML is also essential for SEO. HTML coding skills can be picked up on the job, but it’s best to learn before being hired in order to hit the ground running.

Organic and paid social media marketing. Social media has changed how publicists pitch to the media, how journalists find story ideas, and how the public consumes news. Understanding social media means more than uploading images to Facebook. It entails understanding the different best practices for various platforms, engaging with audiences, and connecting activities with business results.

Savvy brands realize that social media has become a pay-to-play game and are increasing their ad budgets. As marketing and PR functions continue to overlap, PR pros often oversee social media advertising. By understanding the advertising tools of Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other networks, PR pros can reach niche audiences based on a range of demographic factors, interests and other factors.  Some networks allow retargeting that, when done well, can re-engage previous website visitors.

Bottom Line: As public relations functions evolve, the skills required for a successful career in PR also change. PR now entails more than writing press releases and contacting journalists. While writing and relationship-building remain fundamental skills, fruitful PR careers now require other abilities and skills.

The post was first published on March 7, 2018, and updated on May 9, 2019.