10 key skills for PR pros in 2011

December 1, 2010

One of the greatest pleasures of a life-long career in public relations is meeting a constant flow of young people who dream of breaking into the industry. I try to meet or respond to as many as possible, even if the flow of resumes is daunting at times.

Each conversation inevitably includes some measure of the key skills needed to succeed in public relations. And while some have changed over time, others remain the same.

So for all of you who have asked over the last few months, here are the key skills needed to succeed in an industry under tremendous pressure to change.

1. Read. It sounds basic. But the best way to understand the media is to read it daily, hourly, and by the minute. Set up RSS feeds. Download media apps. Bookmark media favorites. Start each day with The Wall Street Journal, and end it with AP. Know the news and how it’s reported. And learn journalism’s standards of how information is gathered, vetted, and reported.

2. Write. Every day. All day, if you can. The key to improving writing skills is to write all the time. I started my career by writing a book. It took eight months at 14 hours a day, and required me to write, rewrite, edit, and write again each chapter. It was a crash course in writing that consumed more than 2,500 hours and gave me a jump start on the 10,000 hours needed to master any pursuit.

3. Get edited. Often and always. Even after a 25-year career in public relations, I make sure all of my work is edited, and edited heavily. Editing exposes weaknesses, improves clarity, and breaks lazy habits.

4. Stay current. This week, I had a chance to listen to the first Internet broadcast of a radio show — an episode of NPR’s “Science Friday” that first aired 20 years ago. Even then, the transformation was on. The Internet was a breaking story as thoughtful people considered how it would transform human communications. It has, and the pace has only quickened. The iPad, Google TV, next-generation blogging. They’re all accelerating the rate of change, and causing us to learn more, more quickly, and try new things every day.

5. Learn instant re-prioritization. In our business, refresh rates hit quickly. Plan your work, but be forewarned. You have to be able to shuffle priorities in order to capitalize on breaking news, address client demands, and meet changing expectations.

6. Think more like a newsroom and less like an advertising agency. Public relations fails the moment bias is seen or promotion is obvious. We’re the insidious few who control the story and tell it invisibly, without the crass hand of promotion. Think beats, news flow, and assignment. Forget about offers, come-ons, and schemes.

It’s all pretty simple stuff that takes minutes to consider and a lifetime to master. But where are the other four skills? Check back in a week to see them.

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Frank Freudberg
7 years 8 days ago

All good points, well made, Greg. The one I think is the most powerful is "Think more like a newsroom and less like an advertising agency." Often, PR people — newbies and old pros alike — make the mistake of not realizing that they are writing for journalists, not the general public. The general public will get to read only what journalists decide to run with, so you have to convince the editors and writers that your story has credibility and merit. Looking forward to Part II of this post. Regards, Frank

Kristin Jones
7 years 4 days ago
Hi Greg – Great list. I’d like to add the following three skills that I find essential, regardless of whether we’re talking about traditional PR, social media, or other form of communications: 1) The ability to think strategically and map PR to the business objectives: This starts with understanding the business goals. So, ask some questions such as: • What are your primary objectives for the company?• What do you hope to accomplish within the next 18 months?• What are the most important initiatives the company is undertaking during the next 18 months to achieve your revenue goals?• Is there… Read more »
Greg Matusky
7 years 4 days ago

These are great points. Thanks for the feedback.

Tamar Weinberg
6 years 11 months ago

Nice list, but I see 6 key skills, not 10. 😉

Greg Matusky
6 years 11 months ago

There are now! http://blog.gregoryfca.com/2010/12/four-more-key-skills-for-pr-pros-in.html. Obviously my trick to get people to come back to my blog didn't work. 😉