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20th June 2018
Signal Editors

Upskilling and hiring for the future of PR and Comms

The role of the public relations professional is evolving at an unprecedented pace. The rise of online and social media, big data and influencers creates new challenges and continues to blur the lines between communications and marketing. How have these factors – alongside the increased adoption of PR software and technology – shaped the role and changed the skills and behaviours you’re looking for on your communications team?

CIPR’s State of the Profession report for 2018, five of the top 11 challenges facing the PR industry related to the shifting media landscape, changing skill sets and the convergence of tasks and responsibilities. In the same report, the 1.7k respondents were asked to indicate the activities they commonly undertake in their PR jobs.

The ten most common activities were copywriting and editing (73%), PR campaigns (68%), media relations (65%), strategic planning (57%), social media relations (54%), crisis management (52%), community and stakeholder relations (49%), internal comms (48%), events and conferences (44%) and people/resource management (38%).

Respondents were then asked to list their top three strengths in terms of skills/attributes/areas of knowledge which were grouped by senior and junior PR practitioners. Those respondents that are hiring managers were then asked to list the three skills/attributes/areas of knowledge that they consider most valuable in candidates. The table below shows the top answers provided.

Role profileTop three strengths (in order)Most valued in recruits (in order)
Senior PR practitioner

Skills

– Copywriting and editing

– Media relations

– Strategic planning

Attributes

– Strategic thinking

– Problem solving

– Writing ability

Areas of knowledge

– Research, planning, implementation and evaluation

– Crisis comms management

– Use of relevant technology

Skills

– Management of people/resources

– Strategic planning

– Crisis/issue management

Attributes

– Strategic thinking

– Problem solving

– Emotional intelligence

Areas of knowledge

– Research, planning, implementation and evaluation

– Business acumen

– Crisis comms management

Junior PR practitioner

(non-manager)

Skills

– Copywriting and editing

– Social media relations

– Media relations

Attributes

– Attention to detail

– Writing ability

– Creativity

Areas of knowledge

– Use of relevant technology

– Research, planning, implementation and evaluation

– Comms models and theories

Skills

– Copywriting and editing

– Social media relations

– Media relations

Attributes

– Attention to detail

– Writing ability

– Creativity

Areas of knowledge

– Use of relevant technology

– Research, planning, implementation and evaluation

– Business acumen

Red = denotes a variance between the top three strengths most valued skill/attribute or area of knowledge. 

There were some variances between the top three skills, behaviours and work experiences listed as strengths and those perceived as most valuable suggesting a skills gap, particularly in the more senior roles. With the exception of crisis/issue management, more general management expertise such as people management and business acumen were valued over some of the more role-specific skills.

For senior comms professionals, crisis/issue management was deemed more valuable than copywriting/editing and media relations although both of these ranked highly as tasks that are most commonly undertaken.

The speed and scale at which an issue can spread and quickly reach a critical point has required organisations to prioritise and invest in crisis management. Those senior comms professionals that can cite first-hand experience of managing through a crisis have a distinct advantage in the job market.

However, a quick scan on PR Week Jobs for Head of Communications roles (including B2B, B2C, public sector and agency) revealed that only three out of 10 job ads listed crisis or issue management as a requirement of the role. 60% of the job ads mentioned strategic planning and 40% stated that people management, media relations and content creation were required.

For more junior practitioners, there was no divergence between the skills and attributes perceived as strong and those most valued. But business acumen was deemed more valuable than knowledge of communications theories and models. Only two out of 10 junior positions advertised on PR Week Jobs (a mix of in-house, agency, public and private sector) alluded to the need for the candidate to have business acumen. 50% listed writing skills and 40% asked that candidates have experience of social media.

While there’s seemingly a desire for more generalised management skills and behaviours within the industry – as well as a focus on crisis management – these attributes aren’t yet reflected in the role profiles and job ad postings we sampled.

This raises some questions. Is there a problem attracting (or retaining people) with the right mix of skills into the industry? Or are outdated recruitment processes failing to deliver? What more could be done to train existing staff? Is it generalists or specialists that are needed? Or both? And can PR win the war for talent in a broader more crowded marketplace?

Note: If you haven’t already read the CIPR State of the Profession 2018 report there’s a handy key findings video that the CIPR have produced that you can watch here.