Why PR Pros Need to Keep Learning and How to Do So

[Editor’s Note: This weekly feature asks communicators to spot trends and discuss their reactions to them. In this edition we hear from Stephen Payne, VP, corporate communications, Feld Entertainment.]

The diversity of knowledge needed in our profession continues to expand. We’re strategic advisors as well as communicators. As such, I’m seeing a greater need for continued learning.

When I was in journalism school, I was required to take one marketing class. That’s right, one. Not that regression analysis is part of my day-to-day, but that class gives me more insight now than it did then. Communications is a business. A strong business education is critical to success. I’ll admit, as a young M.S. in communications, I was less versed in balance sheets than I should have been. Today’s education programs are better, but not as good as they could be. A young colleague recently asked me what EBITDA was and why it was important. At that age I would have asked the same question.

BY Stephen Payne, VP, Corporate Communications Feld Entertainment, Inc.
Stephen Payne, VP, Corporate Communications Feld Entertainment, Inc.

Beyond business acumen, I think we can agree that writing is crucial, if not the most critical skill a communications pro needs. How do you become a good writer? You take classes and learn from colleagues. One of the best ways is to be well read. Not just fiction and newspapers, but a wide variety. I have a book on food and agriculture policy on my desk (I no longer work in ag, but it’s still an interest) and Chemistry for Dummies (we work with a pioneering oncologist who’s working with the Ringling Bros. elephants and I realized half of the discussions were way over my head). In other words, consume the written word in a variety of formats and the yield will be a broader knowledge base (and easier cocktail party conversations). It also will translate into better writing skills.

And to my more senior colleagues, admit it: You don’t know as much about social media as you think you do. It’s OK. Learn from millennials, but realize you won’t catch up—their adaptability with technology is unprecedented (but I can still send a mean fax, write a memo on real paper or send something by certified mail).

In sum, you’re already doing part of what I counsel in reading this publication (and a variety of others, I hope). Embrace what you don’t know and remember lifelong learning is the key to communications success and a greater understanding of people and the world around you.