While writing and relationship-building remain the foundations for work in public relations, PR pros have assumed new responsibilities in SEO, social media and other tasks once considered outside the domain of PR. The fast-changing digital landscape makes it imperative that PR pros acquire new skills and sharpen established capabilities.
“There’s no doubt that the media landscape is constantly in flux,” says Burghardt Tenderich, a professor of professional practice and the associate director of the Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. “Students and professionals have to acquire new skills and embrace technologies to meet the shifting demands of the communications industry.”
Only 14% of CEOs surveyed for the 2019 Annenberg Global Communications Report said earned media will be the most valuable communications strategy for them in the future. Far more cited shared media, (38%) and owned media (36%). The decline of earned media puts pressure on PR pros to develop new skills and communication channels.
These are some of the most desirable new PR skills.
PR was synonymous with media relations and earned media in the past. That’s no longer the case. PR opportunities now encompass more paid media in addition to shared and owned, Tenderich points out.
The lines between PR, marketing and advertising have been blurring. PR people often amplify earned media wins and owned media posts with social media and search engine advertising. Native advertising, designed to mimic editorial content in appearance and tone, has become widespread.
Although the paid placement strategy seems increasingly popular, some PR pros resist the practice and question if it provides an appropriate PR activity. Others predict more PR campaigns will become fully interlocked with advertising efforts. PR pros who can successfully manage advertising campaigns on major social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, and oversee ad campaigns on Goggle and Bing will gain a competitive advantage.
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 only 15% of PR pros say research, evaluation and measurement are one of their common activities.
In a previous survey by the Global Communications Report from USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, almost two-thirds of PR executives said analytics is a required skill for PR pros. Analytics skills are increasingly important to measure PR campaigns and demonstrate PR’s contribution to the corporate business goals. Two-thirds of agency executives and over half (54%) of in-house PR executives say measurement is very or extremely important as a growth driver. However, PR teams face a growing shortage of employees with data analytics skills, executives warn. Few colleges and universities include data analytics or statistics among required courses in the PR or communications curriculum.
Because of the skills gap, PR professionals with measurement and data analysis skills are in high demand.
For successful careers, PR pros must be able to organize, analyze and interpret numbers on search behaviors, engagement patterns and PR’s contribution to the corporate bottom line. That means being able to understand statistics and manipulate data in spreadsheets.
Outsourcing PR analytics to services that specialize in monitoring and measurement can be more effective and more cost-efficient than DIY approaches. Still, PR pros must understand statistical and reporting methodologies in order to extract full value from any analytics service.
Google Analytics can report referral traffic from media placements and help infer how PR campaigns boost website traffic, allowing in-house PR personnel and agencies with access to clients’ analytics accounts to prove the value of PR.
But keep in mind that only a media monitoring and measurement service can analyze PR’s full impact beyond the website and measure how PR improves brand awareness. Some monitoring services can input web analytics data into an online dashboard that integrates data from all media.
Communications pros can complete Google’s free online courses, set up an account for their own blog or website and simply explore the various sections of the analytics program.
Video is among the most effective types of content. Entertaining and informative videos deliver superb results, and audiences love them.
The video trend requires PR pros to become more skilled in conceiving, shooting, and editing videos. Most PR and marketing teams produce and distribute more images and video or plan to do so soon. PR and marketing professionals produce videos for their websites and social media and for distribution through influencers. They record industry events, tours of company facilities, and behind-the-scene views of company activities. They’re even producing video op-eds to submit to online publications.
You can shoot a video with a smartphone, but quality videos require more than simply pressing the record button. Those who command first-class video production skills become more valuable to their employers.
The ability to write basic HTML and even java script is a useful skill for PR pros working in a digital environment.
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. Being adept with apps like WordPress to build website pages is another worthwhile skill.
PR pros may pay little heed to search engine optimization or dismiss it as too technical. That’s a mistake. Good SEO practices increase the brand’s website traffic and drive customer engagement and sales. Those are crucial corporate goals. Although most PR pros don’t need to become experts in technical SEO aspects, it’s essential to understand basics about keyword research, backlinks, alt tags, and page ranking.
PR pros have all the skills to be superb at SEO. Legitimate backlinks from authoritative sources confer the greatest SEO power, and acquiring those links usually requires first-class writing, research and relationship building skills – the main strengths of PR.
Backlinks are the currency of digital PR. By consistently following a few recommendations, PR pros can play an instrumental role in winning quality backlinks that boost their company’s search results. Although Google dominates search, understanding SEO best practices for Bing is extremely helpful.
Bottom Line: Writing and media relations remain prerequisite skills for public relations. Now, ambitious PR professionals must master analytical and digital skills. Both veteran and neophyte professionals can improve their skills by reading industry blogs, attending webinars, online courses, and industry conferences.
This article was first published on May 26, 2015, and updated on Nov. 20, 2020.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.