The timing couldn’t have been better. Digging through a stack of mail the day before I set about writing this column, a flier stood out. “One-Day Seminar—Finance and Accounting for Non-Financial People” it shouted in blazing blue, 72-point type. The enticing offer was to trade $149 for a day in a Holiday Inn ballroom.
Into the trash it went, but not for lack of good intent. Years ago, a few weeks after joining the global communications team of one of the world’s best-known brands, I found myself in a seminar very much like that one. Flash forward to the present. Not a week goes by that I don’t tap into the knowledge I gleaned over that intensive two-day course, also recalling the coffee and Diet Coke that countered the intimidating, stuffed three-ring binder dropped in front of all participants.
Yet I would say with confidence that this same flier now is filling trash bins at corporations, agencies and nonprofits across the U.S. for a much different reason: Making financial and data literacy a priority has fallen off the priority lists of PR pros, communicators and their supervisors.
I have always been an ardent supporter of understanding the factors behind the craft we practice—the science that gives rise to our success. Likewise, I’m a proponent of making the numbers sing and helping spreadsheets dance. One of the primary value drivers for the best PR pros is to provide color commentary and insight on business metrics, explaining their influence on past results and using them to support future actions.
So when you post a comment in a forum about how your career choice was driven by a fear of math, or are clearly out of your league when the rest of the leadership team is reviewing quarterly financials, I’m the guy wincing and putting a secret boardroom hex on you.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. It’s hurting your compensation, your career growth, the long- and short-term potential of you and your entire team.
PR Blind to Truth About Measurement
Yet as an industry, we continue to be blind to this truth. Despite years of being asked for more concrete performance metrics, of complaining that “they just don’t understand” what we do, and of being given opportunities at every turn to make a change, we somehow believe that public relations is absolved from having to play by the same rules.
We’re wrong, and it’s more evident than ever. Case in point? The disparity of what we want versus what we value, as shown in this year’s PR News Salary Survey results, which are discussed on pages 1 and 3 of this edition.
When asked which “soft” communications skills/attributes are most important for advancement within your organization, almost 92% of PR News Salary Survey respondents cited “strategic decision-making.” You’ll agree that to be an effective strategist, it’s essential to have a grasp of a program’s finances. In addition one needs to be able to assess quantitative and qualitative facts that inform the process.
Yet when asked which “hard” PR skills are most important for advancement within your organization, the bottom two chosen were financial acumen at 10% and measurement knowledge at 18%.
And yet we wonder why the profession continues to be challenged in burnishing its reputation among peers in functions such as marketing, human resources and IT.
So what’s to be done?
- Inventory: Assess the skills of your team. Then compare them to expectations detailed in your career frameworks documents, which outline competency requirements by position. I’ll assume those documents include more than passing reference to measurement and business skills. Should they not, correct that oversight.
- Act: Where gaps in knowledge exist, make a plan to address them through in-house and third-party formal training, mentorship and exposure to initiatives where financial and measurement skills can be put to use. Achievement of those plans must be tied to total compensation, whether through promotion, base salary increases, bonuses or other incentives.
- Walk the Walk: As a manager, hold yourself to the same standard or higher. Take a look at your comfort with interpreting data. If sub-par, your team will be more likely to undervalue the importance of these skills. Don’t let yourself off the hook for training: Attach yourself to sessions being taken by your group, find courses of your own or even reach out to a trusted colleague in finance for some one-on-one guidance over a beer or lunch.
- Celebrate: Then, as with any other achievement, celebrate your teammates who find success, holding them up as models of what a well-rounded communications professional looks like in today’s business climate. As I wrote above, competence in finance and measurement skills needs to be tied to compensation, but it also should be rewarded apart from monetary gain.
So pause for a moment, reach under your desk, and pull that seminar flier out of the wastebasket. Your invitation to the future is waiting.