What does it take to forge a successful career in Public Relations? 20 years ago, the answer to this question probably included a degree, a little black book of media contacts and a large lunch budget. However, times have changed. What are the skills needed to succeed in the industry today?
Desire, not degree
I don’t believe you need a degree to have a successful career in PR. One of the most talented PR professionals I know left school at 16 and now holds a senior position at one of the world’s biggest brands.
While degrees are great, a desire to do the job to a high standard is a bigger asset to the industry. That’s often what separates good PR practitioners from great ones – the desire to go the extra mile for employers, clients or staff. University is a great learning experience inside and outside the classroom, but just because someone hasn’t been through the system doesn’t mean they’re not suitable for a job in PR.
Interest in news
One of PR’s primary functions is to create news and generate conversation. An interest in news and an understanding of how websites, news wires, papers, magazines, radio shows and TV programmes gather news and content is a must-have skill. It’s also a good idea to build on this by understanding what will get people interested in your story or campaign. Best way to do this? Read, watch and listen to everything so you know what’s hot and what’s not on the media and consumer agenda and plan your campaigns accordingly.
Create or organise
In my experience, most people in PR tick one of two boxes – they’re either creative or very well organised. These are both essential skills. Having the imagination to dream up the next big campaign or being organised enough to make sure said idea becomes a reality are vital to succeeding in the industry. That’s not to say that creatives aren’t organised and organisers aren’t creative but having a strength in one of these areas is key.
Know a little about a lot
The ability to quickly learn a working knowledge of many different markets or products is a handy tool, especially for those employed in consultancies, overseeing multiple clients. You don’t need to know all the ins and outs of a client’s business, but having enough knowledge to hold down a conversation about the client and their industry trends is really important.
The ability to communicate
Seems like an obvious point, but being able to communicate is absolutely essential in PR. This can be written and verbal and includes listening as well as speaking. On an average day PR practitioners may interact with staff, suppliers, managers, clients, the media, the public and other audiences so having the ability to talk to these groups consistently and effectively is important. Being a good writer is part of this as we now live in a world where a lot of communicating is done via emails and tweets. However, the personal touch of conversation holds a lot of weight in certain circumstances and verbal communications shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s life away from the keyboard…
An emerging trend in the last few years has been the growing opportunity for PR to own the production and distribution of content.
Photos, videos, infographics, websites, apps and more have become important areas of the PR business and having any knowledge relating to these areas would be a big bonus in the eyes of future employers. An understanding of how to re-touch images on Photoshop, how to edit video or how to work with WordPress websites would make any young PR practitioner a very attractive proposition to employers. These are not essential skills but right now they’re very desirable.
There are other skills that can help lay the foundations of a successful PR career, but for me these form the core. For anyone considering a career in the industry, my advice is simple. Dream big, write well, work hard and consume media at your desk and on the go and you’ll reap the benefits as you grow and learn.