PR Career Paths: 12 Skills You Need

No two stories are alike when it comes to careers in PR. That’s because a career in public relations offers so much variety.

Every year, colleges around the country unleash new communications grads onto the job market. They’re smart, great with technology, and eager to set out on stellar PR career paths.

For new PR grads, often the best way to get a taste of the various areas of specialization is to work for an agency. But how do they discover where their true passion lies? What area of specialization do they love—and which are they truly skilled at?

It’s important to remember that public relations job descriptions today barely resemble those of previous years. What PR skills do today’s job seekers need to have to stand out from the pack and succeed?

Careers in PR 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.

Here’s the new list of PR skills for the pro of the future

graduation ceremony

10 Skills the PR Pro of the Future Will Need

1: Social advertising copywriting skills and an ability to manage social media advertising campaigns

While the ability to write social ads on networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram hasn’t changed, the skill set to manage complete campaigns on these platforms has evolved. In today’s climate, PR folks are asked to manage social ad campaigns all the time. That means learning how to use Power Editor, LinkedIn’s ad platform, and Twitter ad products. It means understanding how to manipulate different components of ad campaigns. It means understanding how to bill clients. All of it. Those who grasp social media, enjoy the fast pace and think quickly on their feet can help shape a brand’s presence in the digital world.

2: Video AND audio production skills

Sure, video production skills are still in demand in 2020. No doubt about that. But, suddenly, with more brands considering audio content as part of their mix, audio production skills are also in demand. Even just a basic understanding of Garageband (which you can essentially teach yourself or take classes at an Apple store) would go a long way right now.

3: The ability to lead the exploration of new media and tools on behalf of your organization

Think of the “mobile” skill set in 2012. Not sure PR folks really need any kind of mobile dev skills — even rudimentary ones. But, increasingly, there is a constant need to explore new media and tools in an effort to keep pushing organizations forward. That is not changing anytime soon.

Laptop with Analytics Dashboard

4: The ability to create effective social media content and manage social content systems

Much like #1 above, the ability to create social content is certainly still a key skillset among PR types. But, the ability to manage all that content is now becoming increasingly important as brands start to rack up huge stockpiles of content. Tagging and taxonomy are hallmarks of this skill set. Do you know how to repurpose the right evergreen content? Do you know how to organize content effectively so it’s searchable and findable? These are keys to the management piece of this skill.

5: A deep understanding of traditional, digital and business analytics

Sure, most people have a cursory understanding of Facebook Insights, Google Analytics and a few other platforms at this point. But, do those people understand how to take that data and translate it into actionable ideas and approaches? Some argue there is no hotter topic in PR right now than measurement and analytics. While there was a time when numbers weren’t vital to a career in PR, that’s changed. Those who grasp PR measurement are in demand. Some schools now offer this as an area of specialization.

6: Understanding how to produce reports that make sense to clients

While SEO skills are still important, a new skill set is emerging (well, emerging probably isn’t the right word —  this need has almost always existed) that’s much more critical: The ability to produce reports with context, actionable intelligence and clearly articulated next steps. So often, reports from partners and other agency vendors are almost nonsensical. Client’s might be left to think: “What do I do with this?” The key with solid reporting is to not only report on the data, but more importantly, to make that data come to life. Provide relevant context. Provide ideas as outcomes of the data. And, always, always cull the data down and present it in terms the client can understand.

man writing a report

7: The ability to develop a visual style for brands online

Sure, many larger brands have internal creative departments that are dedicated to this sort of thing. But, a lot of brands don’t. And, that’s where it can typically fall to a PR counselor to fill in the gaps. Regardless of size, PR pros play a large role here. For example, think about social content. A BIG part of that right now is obviously visuals. So, have someone who has an eye for photography and a good feel for how to position the brand visually online matters. Actually, it more than matters — it’s becoming essential. Visuals have never been more important in the PR field than they are today. With video marketing on the rise and the demand for visuals to accompany all of the content being created, PR pros who understand visual communication have a leg up in any industry.

8: The ability to write clearly for external AND internal audiences

Today’s PR pro is being asked to do more — not less. That often includes writing for external audiences in a traditional PR sense but also writing for internal, employee audiences. Not exactly a new development, but it seems more PR people are being asked to do this. What’s more, with the onset of more employee social advocacy programs, PR folks are often being asked to lead those initiatives, too. That means understanding what motivates and inspires employees — as well as those writing skills (which are absolutely essential). With the rise of content marketing and branded content, writing is more vital than ever. For those who embrace it, the career options are vast and varied.

9: Managing virtual teams AND the ability to work effectively as part of a virtual team

Virtual work environments as a HUGE trend in the next 5-7 years and going forward due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means understanding HOW to work virtually will be a key skillset among PR folks. And, it’s not as easy as you might think. Understanding your ideal workflows, the best tools to use, and how to best use those tools to collaborate and communicate quickly become key when you’re working remotely most of the time.

10: Identifying and collaborating with influencers from Instagram to YouTube to bloggers

4-6 years ago, everyone was talking about blogger outreach. And for good reason — blogs were still largely the dominant cog in the social media machinery. Fast forward to 2020, and you now have platforms like Instagram and Snapchat that simply weren’t around 8-10 years ago. And, you have influencers on those networks who are commanding serious attention. What’s more, you have brands that are having a tough time getting started and building communities on those platforms. Enter influencer outreach, which has become a critical skill for PRs. Knowing how to find the right influencers. Knowing how to approach them — without offending them. Knowing how to draw up contracts that make sense (because, in essence, influencer outreach is almost all pay-for-play now). These are the traits of today’s PR when it comes to influencer outreach.

11: Content marketing to audiences large and small

“Content marketing” may be a newer term, this skillset has always fallen under PR’s umbrella, as creating content includes earned media, press releases, contributed articles, customer success stories and the list goes on. Most brands are upping their content marketing game, which means this will continue to be a “hot” area for PR pros to specialize in.

12: Tech Know-how

Technology skills for public relations pros are now a necessity. Based on the 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%

PR Collaboration: Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Lead

PR impacts too many other aspects of a communications and marketing organization to operate in a vacuum. Here we discussed the skills needed to take on the PR world. The good news is that there’s no one road or one skill that will lead you to a successful career in PR — there are, in fact, many.