Public Relations, which was earlier perceived as the “gin and tonic brigade,” has come of age as a discipline and a profession today. Al Ries of the “Positioning” fame and his daughter Barbara Ries now claim PR is news and not fluff.  If you want effective PR for your company the thing that will get your company exposure is newsworthy content. If you want to have someone print or say your product is the best get out your cheque book and buy an ad worth a lot. But if you want to cultivate word of mouth (WOM) offer the journalist what is news and you will get the same exposure and with no cost at all!

PR is not free advertising, nor is it bending the truth to fit your needs. It is learning how to educate and inform others (stakeholders) about something you want them to know. It is about transferring knowledge to others in the media. It is about managing problems and opportunities at the corporate and brand levels.  So if you want to have your company get good exposure in the media, lay off the fluff and stuff your releases with news content. You will be surprised how effective it can be. That’s the power of PR.

If you are looking for a middle level job in PR, chances are everyone will ask for client service and writing experience and media contacts. But at higher levels of PR and communications management the skills required will be more supervisory -- conceptualization and strategic thinking, rather than of those who can write, talk and persuade. A host of factors including content, media technology and psychology have combined to redefine what it takes to run a strategic PR department.

To be effective and successful in PR today, here are some of the required skills:

  1. Knowledge of how PR supports business goals. You nee to absorb and understand the company and its business totally. You have to make your PR objective oriented. You need to understand how your programmes work and how to measure and evaluate them – not just in terms of “clippings of write-ups”. But can you prove through stakeholder surveys that you have improved the reputation of the company? Can you demonstrate that this improvement is translating into positive action? You need to put your corporate strategies and PR activities through research before executing them for results.

  2. A knack for discerning which opponents to take seriously.  Today in many situations it is very easy to be an activist and take up issues and areas of concern to a variety of issues. Especially the media But like corporations some of these activists are credible and powerful, and others are not but can be of nuisance value. Hence when your company is under attack, one of the toughest call is deciding whom to respond to, or to respond at all?  Response to refute charges or matters often has led to exacerbated problems for companies. So at time silence is golden, and time takes care of things. Also public memory is short.

  3. The ability to integrate all communications functions. Many companies do not integrate the PR function with HR, marketing, and finance functions. Yet issues and crisis rarely affect only one constituency and not others. And PR comes to the support in all aspects of communicating of messages and information. Even if your company operates in management silos, it is still possible and necessary to coordinate internal and external PR. You need to act as a conductor of a symphony. Manage corporate messages and sensitivities of target stakeholders.

  4. Understanding how to control key messages. In a global company, or a multi-business company (group) it is very important and especially difficult to ensure that all units have coordinated communications to their internal and external audiences. Centralization and decentralization has its own impact in this respect, and one needs to understand the dynamics within the company for effective and result oriented PR. It is recommended by experts that the PR message development and dissemination process be centralized to the headquarters as the important stakeholders don’t distinguish between the behaviors of different businesses in the same corporate family. And if one of these companies is operating unethically or sending mixed messages, it reflects on the whole enterprise.

  5. The ability to have influence without being partisan.  Companies do receive complaints about professionals being partisan and unfair. This is quite natural as professionals are human beings and have their own streaks or weaknesses. But in PR this has to be linked to the benefit or gain to the company. The PR professional has to be self-evasive. It is difficult in many situations, but then essential to avoid conflicts of interest leading to bad image.

  6. A talent for synthesizing, filtering, and validating information.  We are overwhelmed today with information coming to us from various sources – in all directions. Companies have a lot of access to intelligence, but often lack capacity to pull out and use nuggets of knowledge from the stream. You need to poison yourself and your department as on who can make sense out of the noise to strategise your communications and PR. You need to act as a filter to funnel critical data from stakeholders to management and vice-versa.

  7. An aptitude for IT. Virtually every policy or PR campaign has on-line or technology dimensions – to build networks, communicate with opinion leaders, employees, media and others. To keep them informed and to interact with them. In all this you need to take an integrated approach to technology management. You have to be web savvy. You have to be like a weathervane and interpret winds of change blowing in business and with emerging technologies.

  8. A global perspective. The concept of global communication and global corporate citizen is not about assets alone. It is about creating a win-win relationship with customers, communities and nations so that everyone benefits from economic growth. And that takes specific knowledge of a country’s specific issues. You need to be able to adapt to situations as implied in the slogan “think global, act local”. Companies also need to understand multilateral organizations and difference among political and social systems where they operate outside their own country.

Most of all, senior communications and public relations professionals need to remember that no amount of technology or management expertise will take the place of the ability to sustain personal relationships. PR is not an on-off switch. Neither is it something that can change black into white. Success in PR demands commitment to individual service and personal integrity. Similarly, if you want to be taken seriously in a public policy debate, you need a reputation for intelligence and credibility. In fact, the more reporters, political leaders and other stakeholders are deluged with news and opinion, the more they come to trust PR and professionals whom they respect on a personal level.