10 Skills All PR Pros Need For 2009 And Beyond

A recent survey from PEW Research Center for the People and Press confirmed what most of us already know:  the net beats newspapers as a source for news:

Other interesting points from the survey:

  • For the first time in a Pew survey, more people say they rely mostly on the internet for news than cite newspapers (35%).
  • Nearly six-in-ten Americans younger than 30 (59%) say they get most of their national and international news online; an identical percentage cites television.
  • The percentage of people younger than 30 citing television as a main news source has declined from 68% in September 2007 to 59% currently.

It is blindingly obvious that the future of communication belongs to the web – to believe otherwise would be to look backwards, not forwards.  Despite a few reporters still pining for the “good old days” the rest of us are moving forward into a more free and open information society.

If you’re in public relations and not taking notice of the shift, you’re putting yourself behind the curve of the future of communications.  This isn’t just a place for geeks and early adopters, this is the stage where the modern world is interacting and becoming increasingly reliant on daily.  Don’t be on the wrong side of the business world’s digital divide.

Businesses are expecting to work with PR firms at the edge and fluent in modern communications tools.  PR professionals need to be able to manipulate the tools to achieve success in social communications initiatives.

As I see it, here are 10 skills all PR professionals need to have for success in 2009 and beyond:

1) Understanding of HTML, PHP, CSS and MySQL

Everyone in the business world should know the basics of these, especially HTML/PHP.  Also take the time to learn how CSS works and how to setup databases.  These skills are not the domain of techies any longer, they are simple and when you start to get good they are enablers for success in presenting content exactly how you want.

2) At least a basic understanding of SEO

If you’re publishing content to the web, it can be optimized.  PR can play a vital role in helping SEO – but you have to see the bigger picture of how content you publish to your domain/newsroom/blog interacts with external links and search engines so you can achieve a proper synergy.  Your efforts for your clients (and even your own) website should be directed with larger goals in mind and work long term to achieve tangible results.  I say at least basic, because it is highly worth the time to get a deeper understanding.  Learn effective linkbait and link generation strategies, learn what not to do, learn to maximize the long tail, and learn about findability and building deep interactions.

3) Ability to work in WordPress, Drupal, Expression Engine and other modern CMS

As a PR professional you need to be able to work with all communications tools hands on.  Learning how to work with a CMS proves vital to being able to properly work with client’s web properties.

4) Understanding of what defines successful content

As more and more businesses start to see the benefits of blogging and using social media, there will be less of a need from PR professionals to get them into the tools (that part is simple), but the real challenge will be helping them create content which actually gets shared.  A blog definitely needs to be written and kept by a company, not by their PR agency.  But, companies will increasingly turn to their PR agency for  consulting on creating content which drives relevant traffic/links and builds a subscriber base.

5) Proven ability to build a successful blog

As more PR agencies start to see the importance of the web, a nice qualification to have for yourself as a professional is a successful blog you have created.  It doesn’t even have to be on PR or marketing, just create one on something you’re passionate about.  It’s all about showing you embrace the medium and understand it.  In fact, it may be more interesting that you have created a successful blog on a niche other than PR/marketing as that proves you have a deep understanding of audiences outside your industry.

6) Understanding of RSS and how to use feeds creatively

If you aren’t using an RSS reader to read content on the web and you’re in PR – wow, just wow.  Even more so than just using it for reading content, you should have an understanding of the application of RSS and how to use syndication to your advantage to build a fanbase, spread messages, get content deep within the social web and other creative uses.

7) Understanding of microblogging/lifestreaming

Twitter, FriendFeed and other microblogging/lifestreaming services are absolutely amazing ways to share content and interact and will only grow in relevance as our digital and physical lives meld further.  PR and communications people should be at the forefront of this and closely study the relationships formed and the way people discuss and interact with content.

8) Understanding of what is possible with web apps

Business are looking to their PR firms to help them build creative web apps that attract thousands of users across social media platforms.  I’m not saying you have to learn Ruby on Rails, but you should at least know what is possible to create with these applications to be able to sketch plans for successful apps and be able to work properly with developers.

9) Ability to work in YouTube, Squidoo, Basecamp, Feedburner, Google AdWords/Analytics and other popular web apps

Going along with the web apps trend, PR people should be fluent with working under the hood of popular web applications used by millions of people and businesses monthly.  These apps are not difficult, but you should take the time to learn how they are all valuable for business and how to get the most out of them.

10) Ability to process and understand site analytics

Learning to interpret site analytics, see trends and make recommendations is a vital skill for PR people, especially as businesses start to see the value and care more about referral /search traffic and see the importance of tracking results from all online marketing initiatives.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list — what else do you see as vital for public relations/marketing professionals to have an understanding of for success both today and into the future?

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