“Unite the seven!” If you’re wondering whether or not you’re cut out for public relations, this episode is for you. Discover the seven skills and attributes you must possess to make it in this industry including the ability to write, the knack to be curious and the power to be imaginative. The good news is that most of these skills can be learned and cultivated.
1. Strong writer
You hear this a lot: to succeed in PR, you must be proficient at writing.
Does that mean you have to be a novelist? No.
But you do need to understand grammar. You must know how commas, semicolons and quotation marks work.
Remember when you learned structure in English class? That’s an important concept to grasp in public relations. News writing especially requires an understanding of proper structure.
It’s called the “inverted pyramid.” The idea is to start with the most important information (who, what, when, where, why and how) at the top of the article and prioritize the remaining content accordingly.
Naturally, journalists making the transition will have this aspect down. This makes sense because, in general, this profession provides fantastic writers and therefore ideal candidates to break into public relations.
If this concept is foreign to you, it can be picked up rather easily. The best strategy is to read more news. Pay attention to the articles’ structure and you’ll have the inverted pyramid style of writing down lickety-split.
Being a strong writer also requires you to be clear and concise in your copy. Resist the urge to use superfluous words.
Take the following example:
The word at the beginning of this sentence is “the.”
More clear, concise:
The first word of this sentence is “the.”
A talented writer can also “paint a picture” for the reader. As a PR professional, you’ll be drawing on this skill just about everyday, forgive the pun.
Being illustrative with your words is quite a weapon because it helps achieves a result: a pitch to a journalist, for example, or a call-to-action on Facebook. When we make it easy for our readers to visualize exactly what we want, we become that much more effective at our job.
It proves that the pen truly is mightier than the sword — in public relations, at least.
2. Understanding of News Values
News values are conditions that merit “newsworthiness.”
A reporter isn’t going to write an article on just anything; the media bases what is news and what it isn’t on about a dozen criteria:
- Impact or consequence (“So what?” “Who cares?”)
- Immediacy or timeliness (How new? How close to deadline?)
- Prominence or celebrity
- Proximity (Local? Where? How close to us?)
- Conflict or controversy
- Novelty/bizarre/unusual (singularity, oddity)
- Currency or a trend (issues “on the agenda” for continuing discussion, follow-up)
- Magnitude (“How big?” “That many?!”)
- Necessity (investigative work, analysis)
- Emotions or “human interest” (people stories; could be funny, sad, heartwarming, etc.)
- Entertainment (humor, history)
- Helpfulness or How-To (“news you can use”)
3. Curious, Inquisitive
If you have a curiosity for the world and the community in which you live, you’re a natural for public relations. It likely means you read the news often and generally know what’s going on around you.
This is an important trait in PR since you essentially operate in the news world.
Us PR folks are constantly learning new things. For instance, you might work for a defense company that has developed an all-new helicopter. To be able to explain to the media what makes this helicopter so special, you have to research it and understand all there is to know.
When you’re inquisitive, you easily envelop yourself in your work and become a better PR practitioner.
4. Skilled Communicator
Piggybacking on the previous quality and that of being a strong writer comes the ability to break complex concepts down and make big ideas easy to understand.
Much like a journalist has to learn something new everyday and relay it to their audience in the simplest of terms, PR pros do the same. That audience could be internal, that is, within the company; customers; and journalists themselves.
Public speaking also falls under this attribute. If you work in the media relations side of PR, you’ll be required to go on record for interviews. If you can speak eloquently, you were made for public relations.
5. Willingness to Work Under Pressure
Make no doubt about it, this profession requires you to think on your feet. Two situations call for this especially: in a crisis and under deadline.
Crisis management is all about working under pressure. In the event of a PR/media disaster, you’ll have to drop everything that you’re doing and respond accordingly. It’ll take developing the proper messaging, providing your company talking points and conducting interviews among other tasks.
Of course, working in PR doesn’t always mean you’ll work in media relations or crisis communications, but you’ll encounter a different kind of pressure: deadlines.
Managing social media and/or developing content for other mediums usually entails getting the work done by a certain time.
Again, this is another case of how being a journalist helps you if you are transitioning from that industry. Deadlines are a way of life in news.
And that leads me to say that for many of us in this industry, pressure doesn’t actually feel like pressure at all. In fact, it produces the moments that we feel most alive and have the most fun.
If you can demonstrate that you “think differently,” PR is just what the doctor ordered.
The opportunities in which public relations allows you to be creative are plentiful. Writing, pitching, social media… the list is endless. Many creative writers make their way to public relations and thrive.
But it’s so much more than writing. Crafting press kits allows you to flex your creative muscles and wow a reporter in a way that a press release or email pitch never could.
Take Universal Orlando Resort’s Halloween Horror Night press kits. Every year, Orlando media anxiously await what scary goodness Universal’s PR team has concocted. One year they were sent a skull. As you peeled back the gauze it unveiled a cavern in the skull that contained the press invite and media materials.
Participating in media interviews requires you to be quick-witted and able to think on your feet. For that reason, being creative is a necessity.
If a reporter asks a question from out of left field, memorizing talking points isn’t going to help you. That’s when you put on your creative and critical thinking cap to maneuver through the interview.
Personally, it’s the creative aspects that PR provides which give me the most fun.
7. Build and Foster Relationships
This list wouldn’t be complete without this requisite skill.
It all comes down to interpersonal communication. How well you can communicate and relate to your audience is paramount. This can come out of conversations with fellow staff, C-level leadership, your publics/customers, business-to-business and, of course, media.
This also enables me to touch on an all-too important attribute: emotional intelligence. This is what you get when you go deeper than interpersonal communication and you can identify the sensibilities of your audience.
I’ll use a sports metaphor to explain: in sports, the success of a coach is directly related to how well that coach connects with his/her players.
Some athletes require tough love. They can take the criticism and the pushing and the prodding. In fact, they respond well to it and become better for it. Tim Duncan and any player who has played for coach Gregg Popovich of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs are a perfect example of this.
However, some players prefer to be coddled, and tune out the coach if the instruction is perceived incessant.
You don’t have to be psychic to be proficient in emotional intelligence. But is almost like a sixth sense.
It starts with an open mind and an eagerness to understand who you’re communicating with. Always strive to identify a person’s struggles, wants and needs and how they generally prefer to be communicated with.
This skill, like all of those listed here, can be developed and fine-tuned. If you have a desire to make it in this business, you will.