PR Career Paths: Top Skills for Communications Grads?
As we head into graduation season, many newly minted PR professionals are hitting the job market and wondering about the best steps to take as they embark on PR career paths. The good news is that employment of public relations pros is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026.
Growth also means change. It’s important to remember that public relations job descriptions today barely resemble those of previous years. How are the changes? What skills do today’s PR job seekers need to have to stand out from the pack and succeed?
PR Career Paths Are No Longer Just About Media Relations
When we look at the job descriptions for PR pros, what do we see?
“It’s not just the standard one-two punch of writing and media relations,” says Lou Hoffman, CEO, The Hoffman Agency.
“While great writing is essential, today’s PR practitioners are expected to do a lot more than preparing releases and media relations,” said Martin Waxman, President, Martin Waxman Communications and a social media and PR professor at Seneca College. “My students tell me employers want them to have design, photography, and video production skills. They need to be multimedia storytellers.”
They should also know how to set up and manage digital platforms and build relationships on social media, Waxman adds.
“And they require an understanding of strategy and how to link the results of their communications programs to business goals,” Waxman says.
Hoffman agrees. “More than building a media footprint, companies today want to see PR directed to solve specific business challenges.”
And to do that, critical thinking should be one key skill possessed by those seeking a PR career, Hoffman says.
Technology Skills Top the List
Technology skills for public relations pros are now a necessity. Based on this year’s annual Global Communications Report conducted by the USC Center for Public Relations, designed to provide insight into the evolution of the global communications industry by analyzing emerging trends, these are the top technology skills that new grads need to be successful now, and as they progress down their PR career paths:
- Big data analytics 65%
- Video production 59%
- Search engine optimization 59%
- Digital design 54%
- User experience 53%
- Predictive AI technologies 43%
- Data management 38%
- Coding 17%
Fred Cook, Director of the USC Center for Public Relations, emphasizes that students are getting more comfortable learning skills like coding, not because they need to build web sites but because it’s good for them to understand how to do it—even if they don’t need to do it very often in their day-to-day roles. “Understanding the technology and how things work behind the scenes makes them more effective,” Cook says.
“In the near future, students will also need to understand statistics, analytics and data, and be conversant in what artificial intelligence is and does, and where some of the opportunities, risks, and challenges might be,” Waxman adds. “I don’t believe we’ll need to be expert coders, but we should have coding basics, and an understanding of how to communicate with data scientists, so aren’t left behind as more organizations adopt AI across the enterprise.”
Storytelling Isn’t Just about Words
Video production is another area that may show up in a PR job description. “So much of our business is in pictures these days,” says Cook.
“People who enter the PR profession often come from the world of words, majoring in mass communication or journalism or English,” Hoffman said. “Yet, the visual side of communications has increasing importance, particularly with so much content consumed on mobile phones.”
What Does All This Mean for Today’s Communications Grads?
Job descriptions will continue to evolve as the definition of what PR pros do gets broader. Cook says that one of the promising signs he sees is that while in the past, PR graduates went to work in traditional public relations roles, now they can be a fit for different types of jobs in various industries, like digital design firms or ad agencies.
“They’re taking on a much broader scope of work,” Cook says. “That’s an advantage for PR students. The opportunity is greater, but a broader skill set is necessary to take advantage of it.”
And as they progress down the PR career path, they should expect to keep acquiring new skills. To stand out, young PR professionals should continue to hone their writing ability but look to add at least a basic understanding of analytics, video production, coding and AI to their skill set. As what we do and how we do it continues to expand, the opportunities are there—if the talent is ready.
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