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What was called “arithmetic” in grammar school, “math” in high school, and “statistics” in college is called “data analytics” in business. Data analytics has become an increasingly important skill for public relations professionals and other creative professionals in business.

Competency in data analytics is already in high demand, and industry experts expect a significant shortage shortly of PR and marketers with superb data analytics skills. The well-documented aversion to math carries over from school to business.

PR and marketing executives surveyed by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations say analytics has joined a handful of vital skills PR skills. Most executives (89%) see writing as the most important skill for communicators, followed by strategic planning (84%), verbal communications (80%) and social media expertise (76%). However, almost two-thirds believe analytics is a required skill for PR pros.

Although PR executives are optimistic about the future, finding talent with those fundamental skills is now the industry’s biggest challenge. A major hurdle is that PR is not good at sourcing talent from outside its ranks. PR is turning more to research and analytics departments, as well as advertising and marketing, to find talent to fill its analytics needs.

Skills Shortage across the Board

Competition for data analytics may become more severe as other industries also face greater difficulties finding people with digital and data analytics skills.

The vast majority of companies in healthcare, retail, manufacturing and financial services are facing a digital skills gap, according to a new survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit. The survey of 422 Europe and US-based executives revealed that:

  • The majority (94%) of survey participants face a “moderate” or “severe” digital skills gap
  • Cyber security and web development are top shortages now; big data will top the list by 2018
  • Companies are confused about who should lead digital talent acquisition, and 37% worry that digital talent “does not want to work for us”
  • Mergers, acquisitions and “acqui-hiring” are increasingly popular strategies: 40% of respondents will look to M&A over the next three years to overcome skills gaps

Big Need for Big Data Foreseen

Four out of ten (41%) respondents rank cyber security and web development as the most important digital skills today. However, 43% believe big data will be the most critical under-supplied skillset in three years.

“Remarkably few executives in any of these industries feel they have the skills required to compete, thrive and win in a digital era,” said Adam Green, editor of the report. “At a time when digital disruption is upending entire industries like logistics and hospitality, this could be an existential issue rather than simply a question of maintaining or increasing market share. It is also affecting industries, like finance, whose business is firmly in the digital domain”.

Companies can improve the skills of their current workforce through digital training, create cross-functional teams to integrate digital across their businesses, and create organizational structures can become flatter and more adaptable, the research commissioned by Cognizant suggests.

Individuals in PR and marketing can acquire necessary skills and prepare for higher level positions by taking college-level or online courses on statistics and data analytics.

How Marketers will Reach Customers

“Big data will continue to influence how marketers reach customers,” writes Laura McGarrity, vice president, digital marketing strategy at Mondo, in The Future of Digital Marketing. “The ability to analyze and interpret that data will be the core driver in optimizing customer engagement across all channels.”

Technical skills, including analytics, digital operations and web development, will become even important for digital marketing teams, indicates the study, based on an online survey of 262 digital marketing executives. Digital marketing will require a marriage of technical skills and creative skills, including content creation, graphic design and social media.

Marketing executives say hiring challenges include finding skilled talent, absorbing the cost of a quality staff, finding a culture fit, and retaining top talent. “It’s critical to bridge the gap between technology and marketing, McGarrity states. “The time is now for CMOs and CIOs to join forces to work hand-in-hand, embracing development, design and creative services.”

Bottom Line: Finding talent with the new, wider range of required skills is the most substantial challenge facing PR now. While writing, stategic thinking and verbal communications remain essential, employers more than ever seek PR and marketing personnel with data analytics skills. Finding people with those skills may become even more challenging as those skills become more important to more employers in more industries and job functions. An aversion to “math” may hold back PR and marketing professionals. Courses or continuing education in statistics and data analytics can overcome any deficiency.