People often ask me what it takes to be a successful communications professional in an industry that’s changing constantly and unpredictably. While it’s true that employees need to know about things like new digital skills, platforms and channels that didn’t exist just a short time ago, some of the most vital communications skills are the same as they’ve ever been.
I joined agency panelists recently at Gorkana’s PR Agency of the Future event to share how we’re adapting to a profession that’s being turned on its ear by the world around us. For example, search is the most trusted news source, according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer. People are just – if not more – likely to get their information from bloggers, YouTubers and brands themselves than they do from traditional media. This shift has given way to an era where facts are more fluid and peer-to-peer influence has supplanted talk from the top. To get the results our clients expect, our talent must have a deep knowledge of how to reach stakeholders across a landscape that’s changing every day.
However, while there’s undoubtedly been a revolution in terms of “how” PR is done, the “what” remains much the same. Wikipedia defines PR as “the strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” I’d argue this is what Daniel Edelman set out to do for clients when he founded his company more than 60 years ago.
So, while the scramble for great talent in our industry often feels like the search for a pink unicorn, a few core skills and one critical attribute remain as important as ever:
- Writing. Modern communications programs may encompass a much wider range of written and visual content. These often require short sound bites versus long paragraphs to deliver a message. But the ability to craft and use the right words to create impact are potentially even more important at a time when you can no longer demand attention. You have to earn it through compelling content.
- Research. Insight and analytics have become core to almost all campaigns at Edelman, making research skills and the ability to ask the right questions another core enabler to career progression. Although research sophistication and integration has come a long way, the ability to correctly assess business context, audience and stakeholder dynamics has always been key to a good PR program.
- Project Management. Without project management, a great idea rarely has the chance to see the light of day. In-house or agency communicators find themselves spinning many plates at once, so having the ability to fall back on a plan – all the way from insight and strategy to implementation and evaluation, with contingencies built in – can provide a campaign the best chance of achieving its objectives.
- Presentation. Like project management, a great idea or argument isn’t likely to fly if it isn’t presented well. And being personable still matters. Sometimes referred to as impact and influence, persuasive verbal presentation skills have always – and will always – be a factor in career progression for the professional communicator.
And that critical attribute? Curiosity. I doubt there is any other profession where this behavior is more important. At Edelman, where curiosity is one of our core values, we expect our employees to have an almost insatiable appetite for news and perspective. Curiosity helps fuel the business acumen, the counsel and the creativity that our clients expect from us. We must be at the vanguard in a world where people are downloading their news like they download their music, avoiding what they don’t like. To ensure communications are relevant, they need to be more targeted. This means professionals must constantly seek perspectives different to their own.
Finally, with growing concerns that robots will usurp much of the work we do as communicators, I find myself agreeing with the sentiments of Geoff Colvin. In Humans are Underrated, Colvin argues that robots will never have the skills that define us as human beings, like expressing ourselves, sensing the thoughts and feelings of others and building relationships. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Nigel Miller is chief human resources officer based in London.