Three Skills That Aspiring PR Pros Need and How Mentors Can Help


As PR and communications practitioners we often emphasize communications skills, including writing, when hiring junior staffers. Communications competency obviously is critical, but how much thought do we give to other business skills? Can those additional skills make the difference between an average hire versus an outstanding one? If so, what are those skills and are they being emphasized adequately in professional development programs and academia?

A new survey exploring some of these questions suggests skills in addition to communications for young PR pros to hone. Moreover, veteran communicators might hire better employees by looking for evidence of several skill sets in addition to communications.

The survey data was culled from more than 150 respondents in the communications and PR profession who serve in positions from CCO to individual contributor roles. Most have more than 20 years of experience (63%); 25% have 11-20 years of experience; and 9% have 4-10 years of experience.

Respondents were asked to rank 14 potential skills that ranged from advancing personal brand, collaborating on a team, building relationships, financial understanding, critical thinking and strategy development, among others. These 14 choices were offered in a series of six questions gauging viewpoints of most important to least important for success early on, their importance when seeking to advance to a senior PR position and the role they played in the eventual success of the survey’s respondents. Here are the chief findings:

1. Critical Thinking Tops the List: The respondents considered critical thinking the most important skill to have when embarking on a PR career, although not in large numbers (30%). Relationship building (27%) followed closely. Understanding the business or sector you are working in was a distant third (13%). [See chart A, page 6]

Unfortunately the respondents, in another question, said few young PR pros possess critical thinking skills. Just 9% said critical thinking was part of the young PR pro’s tool kit. Instead, they stated collaborating on a team (35%), building relationships (33%) and advancing personal brand (15%) were the qualities young PR pros most often possess.

2. Skills of Less Value: We then asked what skills are least critical for young PR pros? Creating a personal brand topped the list (28%), developing a leadership model (21%) and understanding effective management theory (17%) followed.

3. Skills Young PR Pros Are Least Capable of:When queried what skills young communicators are least capable of, understanding finance was first (38%), followed by developing strategy (19%). Nothing else was close [See Chart B ]. This is interesting, because as you will see below [#5], when we asked what skills had been most important to respondents’ success, financial acumen was deemed unimportant.

4. Skills to Advance: When respondents were asked to select three skills that are most important for advancing to a senior leadership role in PR and communications, the percentages were large. The top vote getters: building relationships (64%), critical thinking (55%) and strategy development (54%). These three were markedly higher than the other responses, which included understanding the business sector (29%), emotional intelligence (24%) and collaborating on a team (21%). So-called hard skills—finance (9%) and measurement/analytics (7%)—barely registered [See Chart C]. This was consistent with findings in the recent PR News’ Salary Survey ( PRN, June 6). [Note to Subscribers: You can find the 2016 Salary Survey at the PR News Pro Essentials Page:]

5. Relationships Matter: When asked what skill contributed most to their own career success, building relationships topped the list (38%); next was critical thinking (23%); followed by understanding the sector they were in (9%). This contrasts slightly to the responses regarding what young PR pros need to do to be successful at the outset of their careers. That list started with critical thinking, followed by relationship building and understanding the sector. Again, we note the small responses for the hard skills of finance (2%), measurement/analytics (0%) and legal (0%). Emotional intelligence and collaborating each received 7%; strategy development got 5%.

Several respondents commented that writing was important to their success; some indicated understanding/navigating politics within an organization was necessary to be successful.

The respondents were 55% female and 45% male. The majority came from publicly traded companies (52%) and private companies (20%). Nearly half lead their communications’ organization (49%).

The data provide a useful construct for leaders and academics as they coach young PR pros in critical thinking and help them advance their understanding and appreciation of analysis and the range of possibilities in decision-making. In addition, leaders and mentors can provide tools and insights to help aspiring PR practitioners develop meaningful professional networks, realize the value of feedback and hone listening skills. With guidance in strategy development, the aspiring PR practitioner will enhance his/her ability to deliver results and benefit the organizations they support.



This content appeared originally in PR News Pro, August, 15, 2016. For subscription information, please visit: