Public relations is the art and science of managing the spread of company information to the public. It is a strategic communication process that involves managing brand reputation, building relationships with the media, executing PR campaigns, and managing crises.
In college, PR skills are taught in marketing and communications programs. However, many PR pros have a background in journalism, English, or other liberal arts disciplines. No matter what your educational experience is, there are essential skills for public relations pros to master to be successful in their careers and become trusted advisors. These are the things I teach at my SJSU Public Relations class.
The top public relations skills you need to learn
There are five PR skills that you need to master to be successful working in this field. Some people are born with these skills, and others have to learn them throughout their careers:
- Understanding of data
- Being a good storyteller
- The gift of gab
- Understanding the value of relationships
- Strategic business consulting
Understanding data: In the age of big data, it’s more important than ever for PR pros to understand how to use data to their advantage. Data can be used to measure the success of campaigns, track media coverage, and monitor social media conversations. Therefore, it’s essential to know how to collect and analyze data so that you can make insights that will help your company make better decisions. This skill is even more critical if you want to be a social media manager.
You don’t have to be a data science to interpret data. However, it would help if you understood the basics of data collection and analysis. The good news is that there are tools that can help you.
There are a few ways to think about data, and I’ll make it as simple as possible. The first is performance and measurement. This means you need to know how to prove the value of earned media and put some numbers behind it. As a PR professional, you deliver value to the company using public relations and earned media. If you can’t answer that question, you may not be in the right field.
The second is understanding what the data tells you about social trends and how they might impact your business. This means being good at digesting information, finding patterns, analyzing coverage, and providing strategic counsel.
The last way to think about data is to use it to inform your PR strategy. You must learn to use data and insights to uncover media opportunities and market white space. In other words, you can use the insights to inform your content strategy, paid social, and even a more extensive campaign or brand narrative. But, again, these aren’t just PR skills; they are skills for business.
Being a good storyteller: A big part of a PR pro’s job is to tell stories that generate media coverage and build relationships with influencers. Therefore, you need to identify the key messages you want to communicate and craft a story that will resonate with your audience. To be a good storyteller, you need to have strong writing skills, be creative and think beyond products, services or company messaging.
Understanding how to write good headlines, a hook, lead-up, and a payoff are elements that make up a good story. Sometimes this takes practice, but the more you do it, the better you’ll be long-term.
Good storytellers can take a complex issue and make it relatable and attractive to a journalist, reporters, influencers, and also an executive. You will have to help your executives craft a story for the media, and this is one of the public relations skills you should master.
The gift of gab: Have you ever seen Boiler Room with Vin Diesel? This clip shows Vin showing a new salesperson how to prospect a client, overcome objections and close the deal. This is the gift of gab. This means being able to strike up a conversation with someone you just met, build rapport quickly, and make a good impression.
You will have to pitch ideas to the media, build relationships with influencers, and manage clients. The challenge is that many of these people have egos or can be rude. You need to be articulate and have the ability to think on your feet. You can’t let a bad attitude get you flustered or ruin your craft. This is one of those PR skills that can take a while to master.
Understanding the value of relationships: For PR pros to be successful, they must build and nurture relationships. There’s a concept I heard years ago called reciprocal altruism, which means to “give without any expectation of receiving anything in return.” This is so much more than a public relations skill. It’s a life skill.
To work in media relations, you need to build relationships with journalists. You do this by providing value and being relatable. And, don’t forget the “gift of gab.” For example, ask yourself what you can do to help them do their job more effectively, even if you don’t have any news. It could be a quote, information, or a data point. If you give, they will give back to you in the future.
Again, not just a PR skill but a life skill that you can use for every relationship.
Strategic business consulting: Public relations skills are more than just being a good writer or having solid relationships with the media. First, you need to understand the business context. This usually comes with experience because if you are starting in PR, you may not understand the broader concepts of business like the supply chain, retail channels, customer and sales operations that make a business work and function, DE&I programs, and employee relations, and internal communications. Each element is essential to think about and plan for when creating a PR strategy.
Understanding these issues will help ensure that you can plan for pitfalls or reputation issues that may negatively affect brand reputation within the news media.
What are the technical skills for PR?
A recent PR analytics report states that 75% of PR pros say their technical skills are between “good” and “excellent.” However, they need to be excellent. PR pros must learn to use a media database, social listening technology, and media monitoring software.
A media database is essential for organizing and storing information about media contacts, like journalists, bloggers, and influencers. There are several media databases in the market. Cision is probably the most well-known, but there are others.
Social media technology is used to track conversations across social media channels and the media to identify relevant newsjacking opportunities or for responding to a crisis. Newsjacking is the act of hijacking the news cycle, pitching a story that is relevant to what is already being discussed in the market. Media monitoring software tracks media coverage and is often used for measuring the performance of ongoing PR campaigns and programs.
If you are a student majoring in PR, Communications, or Journalism, you won’t learn these PR skills in class.
What other PR skills should you master?
There are a few other public relations skills that are worth mentioning:
- Strong writing skills: This is a given, but it’s worth mentioning. You need to be able to write well, whether it’s for a press release, media pitch, or blog post.
- Event planning: If you want to work in PR, you will be planning events at some point. This could be anything from a small meet and greet to a big trade show or product launch.
- Project management: Many PR pros are project managers, which means they oversee all aspects of a project from start to finish. This includes budgeting, timeline, vendor management, and more.
- Attention to detail: Yes, this is a PR skill that you need to master. You need to be able to proofread your work and catch errors. But it would help if you were also detail-oriented regarding project management and event planning.
Whether pursuing a degree in PR, Marketing, or Journalism, you should learn paid social media, as it’s becoming the bedrock of digital marketing.
So there you have it, the top PR skills you will learn in college! Remember, these are just a few of the skills that you need to master if you want to be successful in public relations. The best way to learn is by getting experience.
Final Thoughts on Mastering Public Relations Skills
One thing I teach in my class at San Jose State University is for students to focus on optimizing their LinkedIn profiles. Why? Because that’s where a lot of recruiters and hiring managers are searching for candidates.
Make sure your profile is up-to-date, complete, and keyword optimized. Include any relevant coursework, internships, or volunteer experiences. If you have a portfolio, include that as well. And don’t forget to add a professional headshot and write your personal brand statement.
Start networking now if you are still in college and looking to get ahead of the game. Attend PRSA events, join PRSSA, and connect with other PR pros on LinkedIn. The more you network, the better your chances of landing a great job after graduation!
I have also outlined the top marketing analytics skills if that’s a career path that you want to pursue. You’ll notice that there are a lot of parallels that you should focus on.
If you decide to pursue a career in B2B, there are several resources for you to learn about the industry. I would recommend subscribing to the Sword and the Script blog, MarketingProfs and also LinkedIn Collective.