Communications, and in particular public relations, have gone through significant changes over recent years and are continuing to evolve at a rapid pace. Technology, the way we share information, a growing virtual workforce, and the dramatic shift in traditional media–these are all contributing factors to this metamorphosis of the profession.

Successfully keeping up with the innovations and increased competition requires a heightened level of skill and expertise. Today’s communicator must actively build and evolve skills to stay relevant and to leap ahead of demand.

There are many important skills necessary to be a successful communicator, but I believe there is a core set that will differentiate the empowered master from the average communicator. These skills are important today but will be even more critical for tomorrow.

  1. Writing. It goes without saying, but first and foremost, great communicators must have excellent writing skills. I’ve worked with many new professionals unaware of grammar basics or unfamiliar with standard guides such as the AP Stylebook or Chicago Manual of Style.  Learn the tools of the trade and get familiar with the rules. With anything, practice makes us better. If your writing needs work, look for opportunities to practice and get feedback from someone more experienced. Be open to criticism and your writing skills will show improvement, but make the effort. Even in this microblogging, hashtagging world, good writing matters.
  2. Listening. Active listening is a lost art. We’ve all been in circumstances where you’re meeting with someone who is glued to their smartphone and misses every word you just said, only to ask you the one question to an answer you gave two minutes prior. Great communicators don’t just speak, they listen and actually hear what’s being said.  They engage with their audience, they ask relevant questions to gain clarity and understanding, they reciprocate with follow-on questions that show they are paying attention, and they extrapolate from the conversation the meaningful pieces that can be leveraged to bring value to a communications program. They take notes to ensure they don’t forget key points and to reinforce that they are in fact hearing you and are interested in what you’re saying. They also listen virtually—meaning they pay close attention to what is being said by core audiences out on the internet and via social media. They don’t post and walk away, they engage to learn what is needed and how customers feel and think.
  3. Relationship Building. Building strong relationships with clients, executives, peers, reporters, analysts, subject matter experts, consumers—it’s all critical in the new media landscape. I read a great article on PR Daily about relationships being paramount in PR. How very true this is. PR pros know that pitching a story and securing a primo placement doesn’t typically happen with one phone call or email. Building strong relationships with reporters and bloggers, understanding what they are working on or what is important to them, helping them when the opportunity arises, and building rapport is critical to a successful, long-term relationship. This is the case with any professional or personal relationship worth having—you put in the time and effort with who or what you care about. Be patient, be honest, be transparent, be responsive, be helpful, and of course, be of value. The payoff is great, and you also learn how things are continuing to change in their world and can work with them to make them successful.
  4. Technical. I hope it’s no surprise that having good technical skills in today’s market is important. In tomorrow’s—it’s non-negotiable. Communications and PR pros leverage technology for just about everything we do. Staying on top of tech so we can innovate within our domains is imperative. We must have a good working knowledge of all existing social media platforms, who uses them, how they work, how competitors use them, how best to leverage them, or not leverage them, and how they fit into our overall communication strategies. We need to be diligent about keeping on top of emerging technologies and tools and how they can support our goals. We must have a solid understanding of blogging tools, SEO, RSS, analytics tools, mobile technology, content marketing software, video and photography technologies, and even coding is becoming a game changer for communications superstars. The PR and communications professional of the future is technologically advanced. Get on board now—make it part of your ongoing professional development plans.
  5. Storytelling. This is a term getting a lot of play lately. Everyone wants to be known as a good storyteller. I myself continue to sharpen this skill and look for any opportunity to learn from the best. When you scan the content landscape, everybody is pushing just about everything, everywhere they can. Yet those that focus on their great stories, capturing and packaging them well, and are thoughtful about how, where, and how often they share them—they are the ones getting the greatest visibility and engagement. Good stories are powerful. They incorporate great visuals to support the story. Look for ways you can build this skill. Seek out those that do it well and learn from them. This can be an invaluable skill that differentiates you from the pack.
  6. Strategic Thinking. I’ve worked with many communications professionals who have a tendency to look at a story or event and see a very narrow view of the opportunity. It’s typically a quick tactic such as a blog post and social share, all with a limited shelf life and minimal impact. Great communicators instinctively synthesize the information in the context of the larger picture. They are mindful about the entire set of business goals and priorities so they can connect the dots. They look at how the opportunity ties to other activities or events. They look in the future to see what may be coming and how it could or should fit. They explore multiple ideas to create the most value from one opportunity, engaging and advising clients and executives to get the greatest impact on their business. Pay attention to the bigger picture.
  7. Business / Industry Knowledge. Thinking strategically means you must have a very thorough understanding of the business and the industry you are representing. If you’re new to the position or company, make it a priority to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can. Having a broad and deep view of the business is the only way to optimally take full advantage of the stories within a company—both internally and externally. Who are the competitors and what are they doing in the space? What do analysts say? Where is the market going? What reporters or bloggers are covering your business? What are the trends and innovations, where are they going next, and where does your company fit? Who are the experts in your business, and what can they talk about? Become the expert on your business and you can better serve your audience at a moment’s notice.

How about you—do you agree with these core skills? Are there others you think are more critical? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo Credit: © Rao

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Content Strategist, Messaging Pro, Storyteller

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