The evolving skill set of the modern PR professional

3 May 2018 9:34am

Trust is the most valuable commodity brands can cultivate today, as they seek to maintain contact with customers. Consumers have been empowered by the internet, and can quickly disengage from companies they don't value. The modern PR professional's main duty is making sure this doesn't happen.

Public relations pros have a vast toolkit of ways to reach their audiences. Expectations are evolving along with technology, and using the same tactics that worked even 10 years ago will make a department or agency seem very much behind the times.

Facing challenges such as the rise of fake news and the blistering speed at which stories break, it's important for PR pros to embrace their latest role as builders of trust between companies and the public. The most important skills are based on establishing these connections through relevant technology and tactics attuned to the way modern audiences behave.

Reach out via influencers

The ease of connection created by modern technology has resulted in individuals looking for messages from individuals rather than monolithic brands. While some companies run their influencer programs through the marketing department, dealing with these independent figures is actually better suited to the PR department.

As Forbes contributor Paul Armstrong pointed out, some companies lack ambition when dealing with influencers, treating them as marketing assets rather than developing ongoing and mutual relationships with them. The same skills that help PR pros deal with the press and, increasingly, the brand's general audience, will serve them well when it comes to deepening ties to influential members of the community.

Marketing today is efficient, ROI-based and heavily automated. Going this route when dealing with influencers instead could be a serious mistake, as the Forbes Agency Council pointed out. Applying automated features to interactions that are supposed to be a refreshing break from advertisements and direct sales pitches could turn customers into cynics in a hurry. This means PR pros can keep their influencer programs strong by taking an organic and hands-on approach to messaging.

Analyze and use data

There's a lot of information flowing into and out of PR agencies and departments. Instead of directly using big data, however, PR pros should be searching for the small, relevant data within those streams of unsorted information. Entrepreneur recently urged PR organizations to employ information more frequently and effectively, even if they haven't in the past. The source noted that the field has been regarded as "more of an art than a science," with little ability to measure return on investment. With the influx of available data, there's no reason not to become more attuned to the information.

Fight fake news wherever it appears

PR pros' skills need to reflect the environment they operate within. Today, that means a media landscape compromised and undermined by intentionally false news stories. PR teams have to handle the confusion and harmful fallout that can come from these articles and their fallout. Late-2016 Pew research revealed the scale of the problem, with 64 percent of Americans saying fake news is obscuring real facts. Add in the fact that 14 percent of respondents admitted to sharing falsehoods on purpose, and it's clear that cutting through the static is a modern PR must.

Playing the hand given

Vital PR skills aren't determined in a vacuum. Developing a truly effective strategy that will safeguard and enhance a company's reputation means dealing with conditions affecting the media and public perceptions of brands in general. Dealing with influencers, analyzing data effectively and breaking through the static of fake news are therefore some of the major concepts separating the best PR agencies from those merely getting by.

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