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7 Essential PR Skills

Jeffery E. Pizzino, APR, standing by a shelf of PR and other business books.

As I ponder the skills that have benefitted me the most over the course of my 3+ decade public relations career, I came up these 7 below. Obviously, we’re all blessed with different talents, and I’m sure yours (especially if you don’t work in PR) will likely vary.

For those of you just starting your PR career, I urge you to think about embracing the following 7 skills:

1. Communicator/Storyteller

On a very high level, I’ve been blessed with the ability to help companies communicate (or tell) their message with clarity, impact and authenticity (wow, I should make that my company’s tagline!). This is especially helpful when a company has a complicated, confusing message. It takes a professional communicator to unravel the complicated pieces and reassemble them into a format that’s easy for the target market to comprehend. But first, the story has to be discovered and polished. It all starts with research. I work to know who my company or client is. What are the strategic business objectives? What is the mission and vision? If they don’t have those, then I’ll work with the executive team to create them. Interviews with the executives and the staff are quite helpful.

I also want to know what this company is doing to change the lives of its customers. What is the value proposition? What are the stories behind the benefits customers are experiencing? Studying the competition is also vital so that I know how to articulate a company’s competitive advantages. Sounding a bit like a marketer now, eh? Yes, there are some blurred lines between PR, marketing and advertising. Which brings me to my next skill…

2. Be Open to Being Multi-Skilled

Most PR pros spend a lot of time engaged is such tasks as writing, editing, press pitching, speech writing, and developing communications strategies. But there are so many ancillary skills that can greatly enhance one’s PR career. Here are a few I’ve picked up over the years: desktop publishing (business card, flyers, brochures, trade show signage, newsletters, etc.), photo editing, video scripting/production, writing sales copy, creating company and product taglines, book editing, social media content, and YouTube optimization. There are more, but you get the picture.

3. Be Hyper-Conscientiousness

On a high level, the senior public relations or corporate communications executive (or outside PR consultant — ideally functioning as a fractional CCO) should act as the conscience of an organization. This person should always be standing guard over the organization’s reputation, making sure it doesn’t say or do anything that might harm its reputation. I think one of the reasons I was inspired to pursue a PR career is because I have this natural ability to be super conscientious in any given situation. How will this affect our stakeholders? What will they think of us? What might they say to others? How can we improve our service to our stakeholders? Businesses overall should be servant-leadership oriented and always be thinking of what’s in it for them.

4. Know that Learning Never Ends

There was a commemorative postage stamp I purchased the summer of 1982 that said, “Learning Never Ends.” I still have one. It’s become my personal mantra. Just because you graduated from college and maybe even earned a master’s degree afterward, learning is never over. Sure, we can’t help but passively learn as we go through life, but a lot of learning will fly by you if that’s your attitude. Instead, we should be actively seeking new knowledge on a daily basis. That’s why I now have nearly 400 business books in my library — and now an ever-growing collection of business books in my Audible app. I likely have more books than I’ll be able to read in my lifetime. But I love reading and learning. It’s mentally invigorating. There are so many great business minds in the world to learn from. I believe we should always be working on reading at least one business book. Try to pick the ones that will most likely enhance your career.

One of my all-time favorite bosses when I was the PR manager at Penta Water in 2005 was Rick Episcopo. He would regularly ask his staff, “What business book are you currently reading?” Ever since then I’ve made it a point to be ready for him to ask me. (My current answer, “The Fifth Discipline.”)

5. Avoid Clichés Like the… COVID-19

Originality will serve you well in your PR career. We all know the clichés that have been around for as long as we can remember, such as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” or “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.” But there are new clichés being born all the time, like “low-hanging fruit” or “making a difference, one life at a time” (or a variation of that). One of the worse ones related to the PR world is when a TV, radio or podcast guest says to the interviewer, “Thanks for having me on.” You hear it ALL the time. With over half a million words in the English language, you can use a little creativity and certainly find a way to create more original copy. Make the effort to do so.

6. Know What Skills You DON’T Have

Even though it’s great to learn new skills, you have to realize there’s a limit to your interests and actual abilities. For example, I’m horrible at creating logos. I simply don’t have that skill. I know a good logo when I see one, but how to create a great logo? I haven’t a clue. Adobe Illustrator scares me. I’ve dabbled in it, but just enough to do a few basic tasks. You have to know when to let someone with skills you don’t have help out.

7. Embrace Authenticity

Lastly, embrace being genuine, authentic. Unfortunately, PR has bad PR oftentimes due to some bad apples who believe it’s OK to “spin” a message. Know this: spin is bad. It has a negative connotation. It means the twisting, distorting and obfuscating of the truth. Commit to only telling true stories about your company or clients, but learn how to do so effectively. Upholding the highest ethics possible should not only be part of your personal values, but also of those you work for or with. If you learn a company that wants to hire you has a history of not always being truthful, don’t work there. If you already work for a company like that, find new work. Life’s a whole lot happier when you’re an ambassador for truth. Plus, you’ll sleep better at night.

PR by itself is a multi-faceted, ever-evolving/changing career. Each day is typically different than the others. Consider honing the 7 skills mentioned above, and your career will be far more fulfilling.

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