Over the past few weeks I’ve seen quite a few reviews of 2013 and pieces making predictions and sharing tips for 2014. For once I've decided to follow the crowd and share my point of view and my 2014 advice regarding the PR profession. How is this post different from the others? Well, the list of 9 traits of the future PR pro is based on my personal observations and experiences, but was also inspired by some interesting research findings (you know me, I love research!) and by the pieces of two PR professionals I highly respect.
Getting straight to the point, according to a new research by the European Communication Professional Skills and Innovation Programme (ECOPSI) the PR profession has a long way to go until it matures.
The ECOPSI is a European funded project that maps and evaluates the current and future competences of communications practitioners across Europe. The overall finding when it comes to the skills and competences of communications professionals is that PR is indeed a maturing discipline, but there are on-going gaps and deficiencies in the professional advancement of individuals. Formal qualification and life-long learning are the key aspects here – basically the need for further knowledge acquisition and skills development.
Just as various previous studies have identified, including the 2012 European Communication Monitor, PR Academy’s Qualifications for Communicators Trends Survey and my first dissertation about social media’s impact on PR, gaining proper social media competences is still the biggest challenge for practitioners.
So, what does all that mean? As Stephen Waddington puts it, the PR profession has “to make the shift from a profession to a management discipline”.
And hoping to help “accelerate” that process, here’s my little contribution – a list of 9 traits I believe every PR student and professional should work hard to acquire, improve or nurture. In doing so, each and every one of us will make a commitment not only to his or her own personal development, but also to that of the profession itself.
Just a quick note here: This is a list of 9 essential personal characteristics, attributes and skills that in my opinion define the PR pro of the future and so are crucial to stay relevant in the ever changing communications landscape. I found inspiration for it from two other lists by Stephen Waddington and Richard Bailey – both PR professionals I respect a lot and regularly follow their work because I get to learn so much from it (I encourage you to follow them too).
My number one characteristic of the truly successful PR pro is passion.
Real passion is the fundamental driver of your career. It’s what defines your learning, the extent and speed of your growth and your performance. If you’re not passionate about what you do, then you will simply not do it well, and certainly not as well as someone who absolutely lives and breathes the job. That deep interest, that desire to learn and try new things out (e.g. signing up for the latest social app or network and testing it to see if it could be applied in a campaign or be suitable for a particular client), that geeky thirst in you, that curiosity and that enthusiasm underline your motivation and capability to evolve and progress. As Larry Smith says, passion is your greatest love.
#2: Visual thinking
Being a great writer and having a way with words is still a must skill for any PR or comms professional. But today being able to think and represent your work as well as your brand or client visually is more critical than ever.
Thinking outside of the box when it comes to creating and distributing content is what gets your work noticed. Creativity, visualisation and visual storytelling through photos, videos, infographics, video infographics or podcasts bring about that fresh perspective that stands out. Such unorthodox ideas will get your press release read or your Facebook post shared.
With the massive adoption of image-based social platform such as Instagram, Vine and Pinterest you just can't run away from the visual web.
#3: Ability to listen
Being able to really listen is critical. You can't communicate without actively listening, you can't build relationships without listening. And PR is all about relationships - with journalists, bloggers, clients, customers and consumers.
Listening means observing and learning from your audiences so that you are aware of what they want and need or what they think about you, your brand of product. Understanding your audiences helps build trust.
Especially in the social media era it’s all about two-way conversations – you simply can't have them if you don't listen to what the others are saying. You are required to actively participate and engagement begins by listening. So get social and listen!
I've always said that PR has a lot to do with psychology. Just as I noted in the previous point, to build relationships you need to understand your audiences. This means, you need to understand human nature and be able to walk in other people's shoes.
Your motto cannot be "give to receive" because relationships are not always reciprocal. Give to build trust and make a true connection. Make a commitment to help and support your clients, colleagues, customers, work in a team, develop cross cultural competences, show that you care, be personal and don't hide your emotions.
Cultivating mutually beneficial relationships is an art, but most importantly it's about people.
Where do you want to be in one year? How about five or ten? What is it that you want to achieve? I hope you have the answers to those questions, because if you don't know what you want, you won't know how to get there. But once you do and you believe in your goals and reams you must follow them with all your heart and energy.
So, commit to constant learning, attend seminars and conferences, read blogs and books, write and blog yourself, make use of training programmes, get involved, be initiative and proactive, seek more work on your own. It's that purpose and drive that will get you where you want to be.
Dreams do not come true, we achieve them.
#6: Thirst for knowledge
To make those dreams I mentioned above happen, you need to grow, and to grow you need to learn. But one cannot learn something without actually wanting to learn it. You need to actively and proactively seek and develop new knowledge and skills.
Eagerness to learn can help you achieve anything. Especially social media is now a livelong learning. If you want to tell your client what works and why, you need to be an experimenter yourself and try new things out as soon as they come out. Which is why the private use of digital and social technology is a must. If you can't use the platforms for your benefit, how would you manage to do so for your client? It's intellectual curiosity that drives outstanding results.
No one can see the future, but as professionals we should at least be able to foresee trends and occurrences that will have an impact on our work, clients and businesses over the next years.
Imagination and creativity are indeed critical for the visionary, but so is data and available resources. Making use of the massive amounts of data that is available to us, allows us to see patterns, analyse and recognise emerging tools, networks and techniques. Due to the changing nature of the Internet and social media, it's important to be flexible and able to quickly adapt to those changes.
If you want to deliver extraordinary work, your campaigns and projects should focus on long-term sustainable outcomes. What is that one thing that would make your clients, customers, partners, colleagues tick in the near future?
#8: Business acumen
Many businesses today have become more powerful than entire nations. Our world and the economy evolve around business. Being able to understand how a business functions is how you can manage to sustainably run it or develop and maintain effective communications strategies that achieve real business objectives.
You need thirst for knowledge and vision to identify trends and tools, but you need analytical thinking and management skills to see what affects the bottom line, to find ways to capitalise on those trends and so to improve company performance and meet corporate goals.
Understanding what works and why it works by making use of data, metrics and insights to prove the value of your work and the importance of your activities will drive success and differentiate you and your company or client by quantifying the value of those activities.
Being business-savvy to anticipate risks as well as opportunities, applying greater understanding of the strategic application of social media for business and developing an ability to accordingly plan activities that would in turn maximise results are capabilities anyone would envy you for.
Data allows us to make informed decisions, i.e. the right decisions. So, stop being scared of maths and numbers and Excel!
All of the above knowledge and competencies are irrelevant if you are unable to apply or use them so that they add real business value.
#9: Self-care and self-respect
A final tip that has seemingly nothing to do with your professional 'you', but it actually means everything to you as a human being and a professional: Be healthy and fit. If you’re physically unfit, you’ll be mentally unfit too. Regular exercise and healthy eating simply help your brain (and body) work better. You are more productive, more resourceful, more energetic, more capable. So, please, nurture and cherish your body.
This is not an exhaustive list; there are many more skills and qualities a great PR pro needs, but these are the ones that at the moment are most important at my job and for my personal development.
What would you add to that list? What makes the PR pro of the future?
And because visual thinking second on my list, here are the 9 traits again visually put in a little infographic to make it easy for you to share (if you found them useful, and I hope you did ;-) )
(Click on the infographic for a larger view)
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