The PR pro of the today: What do employers really want?

Last week, I gave a presentation at a local conference for public school communicators and PR professionals named Minn SPRA. The topic they asked me to speak about? The PR Pro of Tomorrow–a topic I’ve talked about on this blog a few times before. I’ll be sharing that presentation in a future post, but I wanted to touch on a subset of that topic today–what employers are looking for in the PR pro of TODAY.

And, instead of me telling you what I think, I thought we’d go to the people who are actually making the hiring decisions. Agency owners. Recruiters. And HR people across the industry.

I asked six agency owners, recruiters and HR leaders from across the country three key questions:

* What’s one skill that every PR pro needs today and why?

What’s one PR skill that you see evolving—and becoming critical to success—in the years ahead?

* What’s the one skill you currently have the hardest time finding in the marketplace as you recruit for new talent?

Here’s what they had to say:

Jorg Pierach, President, Fast Horse

What’s one skill that every PR pro needs today and why?

Curiosity.  The curious are rich in a business where information is the currency.

What’s one PR skill that you see evolving—and becoming critical to success—in the years ahead?

Storytelling.  If content is king, by 2015 it will be Master of the Galaxy and All That Lies Beyond.  If you can’t tell a story in that environment, you will be irrelevant.

What’s the one skill you currently have the hardest time finding in the marketplace as you recruit for new talent?

Patience.  What’s with the hopping around from job to job these days?  I’ve found that the best people in our business are ones who tend to stay in positions for many years, not months. They build strong business relationships and give themselves time to really grow their skills and find a toe-hold. That’s hard to do if you spend all of your time chasing whatever is next.

 

Lisa Simon, vice president of human resources, Weber Shandwick

What’s one skill that every PR pro needs today and why?

Without a doubt, it’s the ability to think strategically by identifying the appropriate vehicle(s) for delivering content on behalf of our clients.  Weber Shandwick just created a new communications framework to help brands excel in today’s diverse content and conversation-driven news environment.  It reinvents public relations: http://bit.ly/qViwud

What’s one PR skill that you see evolving—and becoming critical to success—in the years ahead?

If I answered this question a year ago, or even a few months ago, I would have said demonstrated knowledge of digital communications and social media.  But that seems so obvious, doesn’t it?  Our industry is changing so rapidly because of digital and social media that having these skills is simply the ticket through the door.  The challenge has become finding linkages between online and traditional media and using those connections to expand the storytelling conversations.

What’s the one skill you currently have the hardest time finding in the marketplace as you recruit for new talent?

I’m repeating myself, I know, but I’d have to say strategic thinking within a highly social and information-driven world.


Beth Ward, regional talent recruiter, Fleishman Hillard

What’s one skill that every PR pro needs today and why?

I think all PR pros need to posses solid writing skills.  Public relations relies on content or stringing together sentences to tell a story.  Writing can later be transformed  into pictures, video, games or apps, but in order to create that content you need to spell it out.  The act of writing also ensures that the content will be appropriate.  It forces organization and completion of thought.  At Fleishman-Hillard every candidate we interview must take a writing test which along with personal interviews help us determine a candidate’s creativity, attention to detail, organization and strategy.

What’s one PR skill that you see evolving—and becoming critical to success—in the years ahead?

It’s important to think in concepts.  Because PR counselors have so many more channels to deliver messages beyond broadcast, radio and print we need to think in themes.  Having a theme allows the communicator to build tactics relevant to delivery channels but ties them together so that the objectives and messages aren’t lost in the execution.  Concepts organize and reinforce tactics.  It’s the glue that holds the program together.

What’s the one skill you currently have the hardest time finding in the marketplace as you recruit for new talent?

The rapid changes in communication and the explosion of channels make it hard to find someone who has experience working with traditional media relations, social communications and digital applications.  Our clients are asking for those types of  integrated programs but finding individuals who have executed them at the senior level is challenging.  It’s particularly tough to find experienced, integrated business-to- business communicators.

 

Rebecca Martin, director of marketing operations, Beehive PR

What’s one skill that every PR pro needs today and why?

Curiosity. If you aren’t curious, PR is the wrong field to get into, because our business and our client’s businesses are in a constant state of change. Having an innate sense of curiosity drives PR pros to want to learn more, uncover new insights, offer fresh ideas, think in new ways, ask hard questions, make the everyday exceptional. From interns to CEOs, asking the right questions, doing critical research, and being a voracious reader and learner are foundational to achieving success for our clients – and earning our own professional success.

What’s one PR skill that you see evolving—and becoming critical to success—in the years ahead?

Writing. It might be surprising to list such a core PR skill here, but as communications channels continue to evolve, writing skills must evolve too. Who ever thought ten years ago that a PR pro would be writing news releases based on SEO key words or writing the equivalent of ad copy for Facebook posts? Memos 15 years ago were long, printed out and distributed by hand. Emails today are short, bulleted and hopefully include key points or action items within the “preview” pane. Today PR is in the business of content creation. Tomorrow that will change. Writing is fundamental, but it is forever challenging us to adapt.

What’s the one skill you currently have the hardest time finding in the marketplace as you recruit for new talent?

Confident client consulting. PR pros often are taught to over-service, saying “yes” at all costs and skipping past asking “why?”. This practice can be at the expense of the client’s budget, the PR person’s own credibility and even the best solution for the brand. Many senior-level PR pros simply haven’t developed the skills of confidently, but respectfully pushing back, asking the hard questions, being candid and, ultimately, helping inspire something better.

 

Rachel Kay, president, RKPR

What’s one skill that every PR pro needs today and why?

Every PR pro needs be creative and resourceful.  We’re very fortunate in that our jobs never offer the same day twice, which also means we can’t offer a one-size-fits all solution for clients and programs.  PR pros need to be able to think outside the box and challenge clients to take risks and try new things.  That’s how we learn and grow and create results that transcend the norm.

What’s one PR skill that you see evolving—and becoming critical to success—in the years ahead?

PR pros need a better grasp of SEO – this is an area that doesn’t have to be outside of our arsenal and it’s important to ensure our clients are getting the most from our communication.

What’s the one skill you currently have the hardest time finding in the marketplace as you recruit for new talent?

It’s pretty simple – I really struggle to find talent that understands the value of research and using what they learn to build relationships. I know when they can’t do that when reaching out to me, they won’t be able to do that for our clients and with key influencers.

 

Gini Dietrich, president, Arment Dietrich

What’s one skill that every PR pro needs today and why?

Every PR pro nee to ds to understand search and how it affects content. With owned media, content is becoming one of the best ways to engage customers, generate leads, nurture those leads, and eventually convert them to sales. While PR will work with marketing and sales to this, it will become a completely integrated process that every professional needs to understand. And search is the part about getting found, which is critical to any owned media program.

What’s one PR skill that you see evolving—and becoming critical to success—in the years ahead?

Reputation management. Typically that’s left to the people who specialize in it, but the skill will evolve as everyone will need to be protective of brands and reputations, especially online.

What’s the one skill you currently have the hardest time finding in the marketplace as you recruit for new talent?

Phew. Just one? I’d say it’s understanding analytics and metrics and how to measure that to gross margins. In fact, our profession is completely missing an understanding of business so it’s really difficult to find pros who get it.

31 comments
Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

Great responses... but they all lack a crucial ingredient: prior PR agency experience.

Or, at least, that's what I'm continually running into as I seek to work at an agency. They notice I have stellar communications skills, sit on the edge of social media, used to be a newspaper reporter and blog today so I know how to write and edit and research, am accustomed to both sides of media relations, etc., etc., etc.... but I don't have that agency experience. And for reasons I can't fathom, they'd rather hire someone who came from an agency than someone who has comparable experience.

Thoughts?

former_scribe
former_scribe

Agree with kwatt re the meaning-light W-S corpspeak. Much more impressed by the rest. Beth Ward's comments are the most thoughtful in that we old-school ink-eaters can still compete by overlaying our fossilized practices with a new-generation understanding. There are lots of hotshot kids (mostly on my lawn!) but those of us who can bridge that gap, she correctly says, are woefully few. A useful resume item for that coming layoff, huh.

byronfernandez
byronfernandez

As a Gen Y-er who suffers from old soul, babyface syndrome, 2 character flaws I bemoan about GenXY are:

1. Bad attitude -- Humility is a sorely underrated and under-appreciated gift you give others, and especially yourself

2. Entitlement -- Quit whining and accept that you will have to work HARD and sacrifice A LOT to achieve your potential

Passion, hard work and humility pays off, ESP in PR and the future!!!

kwatt
kwatt

These are interesting as much for the style as for the content. Look at the first two. From Fast Horse, short answers that give a glimpse of something deeper that drives their company. From Weber-Shandwick, long-winded business speak with no character, even managing to put in a plug for its own product.

One leaves the impression that it is free-thinking and will challenge you to challenge yourself, the other that you will be expected to assimilate to its machine.

Guess which one I walk away from this feeling like I'd like to work for.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

One of my most favorite things I hear when asked why a person wants to work with us is, "I'm really good with people." You'd think I'd tire of hearing that, but it makes me snicker every time. Being good with people does not make a communication professional.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

What a great list! If I had to add anything, I'd add an understanding of technology. It drives everything and we need to be able to understand capabilities (and speak the language of our IT professionals) in order to put strategies to work.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

Lots of good advice here. But who are @bethwardpr , @rachelakay and @ginidietrich ? Never heard of them :). Actually, the three pieces skills you all bring up -- integrated approach, research and analytics -- are three things that PR pros to often brush aside. In fact, you could argue they are the key successfully positioning PR and the value we bring to the table.

ShennandoahDiaz
ShennandoahDiaz

Looks like they hit all of the marks. Its difficult to find people who can communicate and execute across multiple channels. Many of the people who reach out to me are only wanting to focus on print, or certain industries, or certain clients. I need people who can handle traditional and digital media and can think critically about finding the right angle and executing a campaign.

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman

So many good points here from a group of great experts! The points that resonated with me...as someone who is with an organization vs agency? Great writing skills, understanding the value of building and maintaining relationships (the industry is very small, you definitely run into the same folks throughout your career) and business skills. On the corporate side (especially as you need to pay your agencies) learning about the P&L and what it takes to successfully run your (internal) business year after year is key.

jgraubardpr
jgraubardpr

Brevity. Strategies and message points buried beneath flabby writing frustrate clients and journalists. Learn how to write!

julieeditor
julieeditor

What do the non-agency employers say?

NicholasPR
NicholasPR

I agree with all the PR Pros that the skills listed are very much needed.

One skill I think that is very important to PR pros, in how they perform there job role, is critical thinking. The ability to analyse a situation and see possibilities, both negative and positive, and have solutions to chose from is a skill set that some PR pros do well and some very good practitioners struggle with.

The other area that is still lacking, and a skill set I have always thought is important (and is increasingly becoming more important), especially to those of us PR practitioners that work within corporations, is hard business skills. The ability to impact, or at least show related impact, to the bottom line is becoming a necessity for all corporate communications practitioners. More and more, PR is being seen as an important function (department) within the corporation. Until we, as PR pros, increase our business skills (MBA Set), and know how to blend our PR skills with hard business skills, we will not be seen by other colleges as able to have a permanent seat at the boardroom table (executive suite). This is slowly changing.

Just some rough quick thoughts.

Nicholas Pavlich, BComm, Dip. PR @NicholasPR (twitter)

timothy.ch.lau
timothy.ch.lau

Thanks for this helpful article! Just wanted to point out one typo on the third-to-last question ("Every PR pro nee to ds to understand...")

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@Ari Herzog You're right, Ari. That's a common issue for folks without that experience. I ran into that issue earlier in my career. I heard the same things. I think it has merit from the agency POV. They want people who know how the machine works. If you don't have that understanding, it takes longer to ramp up. And, there's a greater risk you'll leave, saying "agency isn't for me." That's the concern for agency owners. My advice to you, Ari: Just be persistent. It's about finding the right fit--for you AND them. Eventually, you'll find a shop that will put more weight in your skills, rather than simply your prior experience.

katrinakaye
katrinakaye

@pug I like that! Almost everything is fresher in Boulder anyway, right?

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@former_scribe I'm not in a position to hire (just sub-contract), but from what I see through my work with HAPPO the most in-demand folks right now is that mid-range professional with traditional AND digital experience. According to folks I talk to, those people are REALLY hard to find. Especially good ones. So, you're right--the ability to bridge the gap right now is huge. Companies need folks who have a deeper understanding of marketing/PR, a keen business sense and a savvy feel for digital marketing. That's the special sauce right now, in my view.

DoroFan
DoroFan

@kwatt I was thinking exactly the same. Also sounds as if the HR rep doesn't really get it.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@ginidietrich "I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people! Can't you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?"

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@Lisa Gerber Excellent point. And one I put in my prezo that I'll be sharing next week. A solid understanding of how to use technology to more effectively and efficiently do our jobs is absolutely key in today's climate.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@NicholasPR For PR to be taken seriously, we always need to be able to translate our work into real business results. And, to do that you have to understand how business works. This will be an area of professional development and focus for me in 2012, in fact. Great point, Nicholas.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@arikhanson I will beat your people skills out of you when you come to work for me so chill out!

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@arikhanson Being able to do html coding is helpful too. Just ask @ginidietrich . She's been teaching herself, and getting very good at it. We're considering promoting her due to her initiative, and new skills.

jeanineblack
jeanineblack

Hi! I don't have a lot of time at the moment, but I currently work on the corporate side and I can tell you that the skills listed above are very relevant on our side, as well. Our "clients" are the company, or in my case, firm, that we work for. Writing skills, strategic thinking, creativity, digital communications, analytics, client advisory skills and business acumen (i.e. advising our bosses or partners), storytelling/content management, etc. all apply, just with a slightly different objective in that we are working for ourselves, i.e.only one "client". At least, that's how it is here. :)