For PR pros who want to stay relevant in their organizations and for those new professionals who are starting their careers in communications, this is a serious question. On March 28, 2013, Sergei Samoilenko, Geno Church and I presented a PRSA Webinar on The Universal PR Professional of Tomorrow. The focus of our discussion was on PR roles and responsibilities, new ways to engage and share meaningful content, and the need to close the gap between what universities teach and what students should know when they enter into the field.
A question posed by a webinar participant really stuck in my mind. She asked if there was a place to find a PR checklist of important skills. I use my eight new PR practices as a checklist of both skills and new responsibilities. However, if I were hiring a “Universal PR professional” to guide strategic communications in 2013 and beyond, here are some of my best practice tips to shape that PR person’s role:
- Be proactive and don’t wait to be asked. Today, we are looking for people who will raise their hands to get involved. For example, with the development of a social media policy, training initiatives and governance (new responsibilities that require PR to participate). You should never wait for someone to give you the assignment, especially if you identify an area in your department or company that needs support. Propose new ideas, do the research, and offer your assistance. The initiative you take will make you stand out among all the rest.
- Start with good communication on the inside. Take the time to discover how to be more efficient and productive with your teams. Make suggestions beyond simply using email communication on how to finish your projects on time and under budget. Use social collaboration tools on the inside of your company for better internal communications and then take the time to educate your peers on new ways to work together to increase overall productivity.
- Test technology … always. Don’t be behind the curve, instead stay ahead for advancement. Be ready to answer those leadership questions asking “why” and “how” your brand should participate in new social communities. Take the time to “Tech Test” in different areas including collaborative platforms, applications, monitoring software, influence tools, etc., which will make you a more valuable asset to your organization.
- Listen to be heard and to be relevant. Gathering customer intelligence is the best way to internalize information and then use it to communicate with meaning, through offline and new media channels. Since I started in PR, I was always told to listen first to solve problems. This is much more apparent today, as a result of social media. By truly “listening,” we can help people and build stronger relationships with our constituents.
- You are always on! Social media doesn’t sleep, so your organization’s readiness is key. Creating the social media crisis plan (integrated into an overall crisis plan) requires knowledge and skills. It’s imperative for you to build a system that catches negative sentiment early on before it escalates, and to put processes and people in place for different levels of escalation through new media channels.
- Build relationships by giving. And, sometimes realize you have to give more. PR professionals have always been known for building relationship pre-Internet and social media. Today, the ability to cultivate a relationship with new influencers and customers where they congregate is both an art and science. Knowing how to strategically grow mutually beneficial relationships, whether they start online on Facebook or offline, is an essential part of the PR person’s role.
- Live the brand to protect the brand. PR professionals who are more involved in the development of the brand experience, and who understand how the brand voice translates into the social media brand voice (with personality and transparency), are in a position to educate others. With this understanding you can help to build an army of champions, who can better protect and maintain the brand’s reputation at every touch point.
- Be accountable with all of your communications, including social media. It’s important for you to understand the different metrics whether they reveal community growth, reputation issues, increased awareness, or engagement with high-level impact. We also have to use social media analytics, paired with other data, to show Return on Investment (ROI), knowing that our communications cannot work in a vacuum and must be integrated with marketing and other areas of the organization. Of course, we also have to ask, “Why?” and then make sure the outcomes we are trying to achieve track back to our program objectives, which we measure over time.
What helpful tips would you add to shape the role of the Universal PR professional of tomorrow? And, when you describe your own role, what do you think are the most important skills?