The wind of technological change is blowing through the public relations industry, and PRs can no longer rely on their copywriting chops or contacts book to stay ahead of their peers. Today’s public relations professional needs a portfolio of technology skills to make them stand out from a crowded field and bring real value to their employers and clients.
But where can you acquire these skills – and what should you learn?
If there were easy answers, then everybody would be doing it. That’s why we’ve put together a short guide to acquiring the skills you need to turbocharge your career.
What to learn?
There is no such thing as the ‘complete PR person’ today. There are so many different technologies and disciplines that are pertinent to your day-to-day work that no-one can hope to cover them all. Instead, you should focus on mastering one skill that will bring real value to your clients and employers.
The trick is to identify the skills shortages faced by your current or future employer, and choose one that mostly closely matches your natural interests and aptitude. Coding is a bit of a cliché whenever it comes to digital skills, but it’s still a rare and incredibly useful ability that you can use to develop websites or build apps and games for various PR campaigns.
Or you might choose to develop your social media skills. For all the talk of “digital-first” agencies, most social PR is restricted to typing tweets and developing posts for LinkedIn. There’s plenty of scope here to train yourself up as a social media guru, with a deep understanding of the different tools and techniques for building followers, monitoring online conversations, creating amazing content, influencing key stakeholders, understanding how crises develop (and how to stop them).
Then there’s design, a skill that is surprisingly overlooked in such a presentation-focused industry as PR. By developing a good eye for design and mastering tools such as PowerPoint and Photoshop, you’ll find your skills in constant demand for reports, brochures, websites, new business pitches, and much more.
Important as they are, these skills are comparatively ‘old school’. New technologies such as artificial intelligence, analytics, data visualisation, and automation are still in their infancy, but will doubtless have as transformational effect on PR as they have had on other industries. Familiarising yourself with some of these will give you a significant head start over your peers.
Where to train?
The first place to start your learning journey is obviously with your current employer, and if they don’t have a training budget then you need to question whether it’s the right place to forge a long-term career. You will need to make the case for why you want to master a particular skill, and you should be open to dialogue with your employer about what they’d like you to learn – it is their money, after all.
If this option isn’t open to you, then the web provides an embarrassment of riches for prospective students, from free online courses such as Google’s Digital Garage to those from industry bodies such as the PRCA and CIPR. Ultimately, your choice of course will depend on your budget (if any) and what you want to achieve, whether it’s a grounding in the basics, or a course that ends with recognised accreditation such as Open Classrooms.
Whatever course you choose, mastering a new skill means you’ll save your employer or client thousands of pounds on hiring someone permanent or bringing in a part-time specialist. You’ll also develop something utterly invaluable – a unique selling point that will stay with you as long as you live.