Public Relations professionals – Skills for the future

The way and speed that people consume news and information has changed, the media per se have changed, as well as the stakeholders and their expectations of organizations and governments.  The essence of public relations remains the same: influence people’s behavior and attitudes by creating truthful and meaningful relationships between the organization and its publics. However, considering this new scenario, which are the skills that need to be developed in the future?

According to Dr. Tom Watson and Dr. Chindu Sreedharan, from The Media School at Bournemouth University, “the communicators need to be educated and trained on higher skills than ever before”. They conducted a research amongst senior communicators in Europe and North America and other markets to identify the most important skills and knowledge areas.  

The report analyses the responses of senior-level communicators regarding knowledge, skills, relationships, vision, and managerial abilities that senior communications professionals will need in five years’ time, and what it takes to prepare the next generation of leaders in globally integrated organizations.

Based on the study findings and literature, what is needed to have communications professionals delivering the “extra mile” and definitely taking-up their position in the decision–making coalition? It’s possible to summarize it in seven key areas of development:

1 – Strategic management:

If practitioners are looking for professional progression they need to dominate the business language and assume a managerial view towards communication. That way they will be valued and bring value to the business. For that, the professional needs to learn a totally different group of skills, understand the industry and sector of its company, gain knowledge of business principals and develop a strategic view of the value of communication.

2 – Counseling skills:

The top management makes decisions based on internal and external factors and needs to be provided with information regarding both, namely “environmental scanning”. The role of communications managers in this scenario is to consider all relevant issues and trends in the social environment and interpret them to facilitate the “dominant coalition” decision. 

For that professionals needs to be the “eyes and ears” of the company and assume a kind of “corporate radar” role.  In order to do that, it’s important for the professional to develop research skills, analytical and critical skills and issues management. Other skills required are conflict management, communications skills to coach senior management about how to communicate, manage relationships and deal with new demands.

3 – Interdisciplinary skills:

According to the study The Senior Communicator of the Future, the communication professional will need to develop a “set of skills, knowledge and competencies in order to act as advisors of equal standing with senior operational colleagues”.

As communications departments work closely with many different areas, they need to develop a team with cross-disciplinary skills and knowledge able to plan in collaboration with other managers in areas like marketing, legal, human resources and finance. This will help communication among the departments and facilitate priorities setting, goals and resources definition and also will bring consistency to the messages.

4- Stakeholder’s management & Internal networking :

Developing refined stakeholder management skills can be the differentiator in a communications professional’s career and a valuable asset to the communication department.

The ability to analyze the big picture and take advantage of unfavorable situations implies being able to plan in advance, considering all possible public reactions, identifying the allies and adversaries and measuring well the potential impact on communication and the company’s reputation. 

That requires great networking and communication skills in order to identify those who can make a real difference, keep them well-informed and create a favorable environment for the organization.

5- Proof of performance:

Demonstrating the impact of communication strategy on the organization’s effectiveness will be more relevant than ever for PR practitioners and this will require a higher level of analysis and planning skills to deliver outcomes measurement.

The communications professional needs to understand that strategic public relations should be planned and managed by organizational objectives. This is also reflected in the way that communication is evaluated inside the organization. Therefore, simply counting how many articles the company appeared in in the newspapers is no longer acceptable and that’s why a deeper and more effective training of public relations practitioners in measurement and research is needed.

6 -Interpreter of changes and trends:

In high performance organizations, which use communications in a strategic way, the ability to analyze trends in the social environment and propose communication programs based on these findings is increasingly valued. The study highlights, “the future senior communicators need to be able to interpret changes and trends in communication technologies and practices”.

7 – Internationalization:

Communications professionals nowadays are increasingly exposed to international and cross-cultural communications problems and activities and must be prepared to understand the nuances of different cultures in order to propose tailor-made solutions and lead the organizations to successful collaborations.

Combined with the influence of the new media in this “global village”, the importance of intercultural knowledge, understanding of how to communicate across cultural and linguistic barriers and work on a global basis has increased for any communication professional.

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2 Responses to Public Relations professionals – Skills for the future

  1. Irene says:

    Thank you for this interesting sum of future PR competencies. My two questions would be:
    1.If comm. practitioners do not have approach to strategic informations of a company how they can prepare and implement efficient comm. plan but also know what type of informations would be appreciate for senior management?
    2.What kind of additional education you propose for PR practitioners in order to gain above mentioned skills?

    • Hi Irene:
      Thanks for your question. First I believe that comm. practitioners must have knowledge of the strategic planning and positioning of the company otherwise it’s impossible to use communication in a strategic way in order to enhance the company’s goals.
      However, different from what many professionals think strategic information is not always “confidential” and can be easily found inside the company. It’s difficult to give you concrete examples because I don’t know your industry or company, but in general I would look for:
      – products and services roadmaps and converge your communication plan with this,
      – understand if there is any seasonal date you need to consider such as back to school, festive dates, summer or winter that are important for sales for example
      – corporate events where your main executives will be attending or should be attending and how you can take advantage of this in the communication perspective – preparing talking points that reinforces your key messages, executive briefs of hot topics to prepare this executive, photo and interview opportunities, inform the local employees to attend the event or organize a meeting with the executive
      – have regular meetings with the managers of key areas such as marketing, sales, RH, Legal etc
      – try to gather all information as possible by reading all annual plans, sales goals, internet official website, last articles and interviews, annual reports, industry analysis, etc
      The top management is looking for trends and information useful for their daily life and relationship with customers, that’s also depends on the industry you are. All information that can anticipate any future impact in the company is useful, information regarding the competition, regulations of the industry, opportunities in general, new technologies that affect the business, costumer behavior, new trends of industry and in communication such as new media, increasing importance of social responsibility, employee satisfaction, innovation, etc.
      Also, it’s important also to think about how your company will respond to common issues, such as global crisis, environmental problems, fraud scandals, unemployment, etc and evaluate the impact that these facts have in your company.
      Regarding the additional education, I would say that it’s important to understand better about corporate strategy, marketing and business in general. A recent survey (ECM 2010 – European Corporate Communication) predicts that the disciplines of the future are corporate communication, marketing/brand communication, corporate social responsibility, internal communication and change management and international communication.

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