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Nine Essential Skills for Any Public Relations Professional

by Ford Kanzler, H. Buford Barr  |  
November 10, 2011

In this article, you'll learn...

  • Skills and attributes needed to be a successful PR pro
  • How to adapt to current trends taking shape in PR

If staying current in today's PR world is important to you, adopt the famous aphorism often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: "Learn as if you were to live forever." This article highlights skills that remain essential—and some new skills we're all going to need for future PR success.

Remember, professional growth is an investment you never stop making if you want to remain valuable in business.

1. Polish your writing and editing

The fundamental skill of our craft remains writing—news or feature, online or print. If you can't string words together interestingly to tell a story, you're going to be working with a serious handicap. The most frequent error is writing in academic- or corporate-speak.

Use plain language. Eliminate the use of passive voice, infinitives, or past tense. Active voice and present tense are ideal. Varying sentence structure will get you points as well. Whether you're writing for online (digital media) or print, terse but informative writing without buzzwords wins the day. Reading a lot, including good literature, will definitely help your writing. The more you write, the better you'll become at it.

Keep in mind that most people don't read today; they scan everything, especially emails. Studies show we tend to read in an "F" pattern—top left to right, left to right, little bit of left, and on to the next document. So today you have precious few words to get attention, make your point, build interest, and generate action. Make it personal, make it interesting, and make it quick.
2. Become clearly strategic

Too often, PR campaigns take off without a flight plan. Sometimes, Marketing, or whoever is calling the shots, needs help defining and agreeing on direction. Get comfortable understanding and knowing the difference between objectives, strategies, and tactics. Many people don't. Better yet, become knowledgeable about the entire campaign-planning process. That includes branding or product differentiation, including competitive analysis and positioning.

Create relevant strategic messaging that connects with audiences and communities. Learn how to dramatize a position or message. Become very clear about how tactics must be connected to strategy. Discover the use of visual messaging and creative strategy. By growing in those important areas, you'll offer far more value than merely executing programs.

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Ford Kanzler is principal at Marketing/PR Savvy, a public relations and communications firm.

LinkedIn: Ford Kanzler



H. Buford Barr has lectured in marketing and communications at Santa Clara University, with which he has been associated since 1989. His professional career includes senior marketing positions at Actel, NV Philips, McCann-Erickson Advertising, and General Electric.

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  • by Nick Stamoulis Thu Nov 10, 2011 via web

    "Make it personal, make it interesting, and make it quick."

    Great motto to write by! There is still a time and place for long form content but you have to know when it's appropriate and when it is going to turn your visitor off. Catch their attention with quick, relevant content and draw them into your longer articles.

  • by Don Tepper Thu Nov 10, 2011 via web

    The overall points in the article are good, though I'd quibble with some (6: Dive Into Video, for instance). But there's a gaping hole in the picture that Kanzler and Barr present. And that is: "Understand the needs and expectations of the media you're trying to reach--both on a macro and a micro level." The only PR that will make it into print or on air or online is information that serves the specific needs of that publication, website, or similar.

    Example: I edit a magazine for physical therapists. They're part of health care. But 95% of the pitches I receive aren't relevant to my readers. Some have nothing to do with healthcare. (Seriously!) Some relate to healthcare, but deal with some advance or study in surgery or chemotherapy or neurology. That's usually far outside our area of interest. Some relate to rehabilitation, but feature chiropractors (a distinctly different area of interest, one we don't cover at all) or athletic trainers (again, a different area of interest), or occupational therapists (getting warmer, but still not our focus).

    The best PR for me is something that says: "Here's something that physical therapists truly will be interested in." Now, you can certainly represent the same manufacturer or supplier and have a product that's of high interest to physical therapists, chiropractors, athletic trainers, and physical therapists. But most editors won't go out of their way to say, "Hmmm. This is pitched at one target audience. Can I somehow repurpose this for mine?" I do that, but I don't blame editors who react, "This isn't for us" or, worse, "That PR person has no frigging idea what we do."

    Bottom line: Know your intended audiences. Then craft your efforts (print, digital, etc.) specifically for those audiences.

  • by Ford Kanzler Thu Nov 10, 2011 via web

    Don - Certainly a good point. Thank you. The article wasn't meant to be all-includsive of everything a proficient PR pro or business communicator should be doing. Knowing your audience, including the needs of media people you're working with is absolutely essential and frankly quite obvious. We chose areas we felt were too often missing and some that are becoming more important and available to us. A longer list could easily be made but who's going to remember them all? :)

  • by Pam Didner Thu Nov 10, 2011 via web

    Enjoy the article. "Become Clearly Strategic" resonates with me. Knowing the differences between objectives, strategies and tactics is vital. Once you know your objectives (why) and your strategies (what), the tactics (how) will soon follow. I also agree that PR needs to be familiar with the overall campaign planning process.

    Not totally related to PR, but sharing the thoughts of strategic and campaign planning:

    Marketing is Innovation's BFF

    The Secret to a Solid Marketing Strategy

  • by Karen Luttrell Thu Nov 10, 2011 via web

    Thank you for an interesting article that kept me reading to the end despite my ever-decreasing attention span. ;-)

    I agree with you that these are all important skills, and I love the fact that you put polishing your writing at the top of the list.

    Interesting and useful note about the F -shaped reading pattern. I also believe that people scan through titles, subheads, and photo captions. These are still some of the most-read parts of any material published. It amazes me how often I see materials that don't carry the main messages in these critical, highly-read areas. When working on your writing skills, practise condensing your message so you can fit it in these areas and still keep it clear, interesting and memorable.

  • by Julia Stewart Mon Nov 28, 2011 via web

    Sorry to be late to the discussion: Great start! New PR pros, take note -- not-so-new pros, refresh. I would add: Become indispensable to senior management. PR continually has to prove our value to the management team. This is where your advice to "become strategic" can help; become a valued strategic counselor to your own senior management, and it will be easier to get the team's support when your program wants/needs it.

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