Well-developed soft skills account for 75% of a successful PR career
One of the most popular requests I get from entrepreneurs is to help them find a head of PR. With ‘hard skills’ (talents that can be learned and measured) it’s relatively easy: we simply proceed according to the company’s business goals. But in addition to knowing how to “pitch journalists,” a PR professional must have a number of other, softer skills, if they are to achieve their full business potential.
In this article, I’m going to talk about which soft skills determine a PR professional’s success, and the kinds of things I pay attention to when I hire people for my own agency.
1. All-round development and knowledge of related industries
A strong and marketable PR professional doesn’t simply build rapport with journalists; their objective is to use a variety of media channels comprehensively to convey key messages. It’s not enough to consider each medium’s specific features: what’s important is to be familiar with marketing, events, blogger engagement and a host of wider factors, all together.
Specifically, the PESO model (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned) must serve as the key principle and foundation of the PR professional’s work. It’s vital to look beyond the familiar earned media coverage (comments, columns, and press releases) and actively work on the development of all other channels. These ongoing efforts across all communication channels should serve as the formula for long-term success.
If a PR professional is working with startups and investors, they face even broader requirements: it’s essential to understand how the venture capital industry operates and how investors make their decisions, and to possess the right skills in the sphere of investor relations.
2. Understanding the context and following the news agenda
A successful modern communicator must be on top of the news agenda and have a good understanding of current affairs.
To generate quality newsbreaks and unusual special projects, and to build a personal brand for your client, you should have more than a theoretical understanding of how different PR instruments work. It’s essential to know how to use them and adapt them in practice, and as circumstances continue to shift.
The skill of quickly finding one’s bearings and using new information is key to successful PR work. If a PR professional doesn’t follow the relevant news context, they will almost certainly miss an opportunity for the company to be at the right place at the right time. What’s more, they won’t be able to properly forecast communication risks.
3. Sense of responsibility and ability to answer questions
Being able to answer questions competently is very important for everyone who values their own and others’ time. Correct answers and properly formulated questions help all participants in the communications process to reach common ground.
The tactic favored by politicians — departure from the subject, and avoidance of direct answers — doesn’t work for communicators. A good PR professional is confident of their ability, position, methods of work, and values. They are always ready to assume responsibility, and therefore make specific, compelling, and pertinent statements.
4. High level of emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is critical to PR. It’s very important to discern your own and others’ emotions, to assess a situation objectively, to influence it, and to sense the needs of other people. Knowing how to empathize, how to maintain a friendly environment, and how not to be bothered by trivialities become especially important when you work in small groups, where the emotional state of even one person can have an immediate impact on the overall mood.
When choosing people to work within my team or with my clients, I always analyze how well the candidate manages their emotions, trying to anticipate whether they’ll be a good fit, and be able to handle challenges and work under pressure.
A good PR professional knows that composure + restraint = reputation.
5. Strategic thinking
Strategic thinking is one of the most useful soft skills in the workplace, regardless of your professional sphere. This ability helps you to see the end goal and to think ahead — and to achieve better results.
Some people believe that a PR professional has a supporting function within the company. But I think that external communications must be strategic, and consequently, that a true PR professional can offer incredible business value. The ability to think globally, to set yourself ambitious goals and achieve them, to avoid being distracted by trivialities, to see a situation with perspective, to forecast risks, and to be a fully-fledged business partner should be considered vital to every business.
6. Helicopter view
To manage complicated tasks effectively, especially in a state of crisis, it’s important to be flexible with your point of view. The ability to distance oneself from a situation is a quality of a truly strong PR professional, and it’s known as having a ‘helicopter view’.
A helicopter view refers to the ability to act while simultaneously keeping in mind opposing ideas. It helps you when you’re setting out your priorities and when thinking globally, and it pushes you beyond the limits of “I can’t do this.” For a modern communicator, especially if they seek to become the head of a PR department, the ability to adopt a helicopter view is a must.
For me, the most important thing when it comes to my work is having the maximum level of effectiveness with the minimum level of control. As I already noted, professionalism is not just about hard skills, but about the ability to make your own decisions, to achieve the goals you’ve set, to analyze and research, to disengage from “background noise,” and to see the final goal, choosing the optimal path to reach it.
I believe that an employee who can independently think through the necessary steps, who can be creative, and who can immediately react to change is the most valuable kind of employee. A true professional manages any project or task with initiative, without waiting for prompts and tips from management.
8. Being a problem-solving person
Several years ago, the World Economic Forum at Davos came out with a forecast of the competencies that will define the professionals of the future.
That future is now here: and decision-making remains among the top 10 skills, with problem-solving skills at the top of the list.
Decision-making and problem-solving are not exactly the same, and given that crisis management communications are typical within PR, problem-solving is especially important in this field. Reaction speed and confidence are vital in pressured situations, and a true PR professional is quick on their feet, calm, and resourceful. For them, a problem is just another task to manage.
9. Matching values
A business based on a set of principles rather than inflexible rules will demonstrate greater stability and greater potential for growth. A company’s success depends on cohesiveness, and genuine results can only be seen through long-term collaboration.
When meeting a new employee, it’s important to make sure that your values won’t clash during critical times. Do not neglect questions about values in the interview, and don’t be afraid to ask the candidate about their goals, vision of the future, and things that are important to them, both at work and in their personal life.
10. Curiosity and desire to learn
The concept of lifelong learning is especially relevant for people who work in PR. When dealing with ultra-fast business process transformation, they need to constantly hone their professional skills while paying attention to their overall growth and mindfulness.
A strong and marketable communications expert is someone who’s constantly looking for new ways to solve the tasks at hand. They are curious, and want more than a superficial explanation of cause and effect. It’s important for them to get to the bottom of things, improving the quality of their work in the process. Curiosity and desire to learn are the seminal qualities required of anyone who wants to become a business partner, and be instrumental to the stable growth of their client or company