4 more surprisingly must-have public relations skills
To be a star performer in the PR industry, there are some obvious talents you’ll need – excellent communications, writing, time management and multi-tasking skills, along with a keen eye for detail and being able to remain cool under pressure are all essential to the job.
Whether you’re a recent graduate looking to land your first job, or a seasoned pro looking to increase your day-to-day productivity and really push for that next promotion, there’s always room to improve your public relations skills. Along with the areas covered in my previous post, 5 surprising skills that could land you your first job in public relations, here are a few more that could help set you apart from the crowd.
Word and Excel
Before you shout, “But I’ve been using these programs for donkey’s years!” have a quick look at all the buttons and toolbar options at the top of your Word or Excel menu. Do you really know what they all do? If the answer is, “no”, then you are missing out on a whole host of opportunities to be more efficient and make your life easier.
Learning how to use the advanced features of these programs can save you time in the long run. In Word, why not create templates of regularly produced documents such as press releases or save all of your most commonly used font and paragraph styles? This will ensure absolute consistency in things like document formatting and boilerplate content.
Right clicking on the Windows button in the top left of Word and selecting ‘Customise Quick Access Toolbar’ brings up an entire list of the program’s shortcut buttons. Learning what each does, identifying those you might find useful or use regularly, and adding them to the bar at the top of your screen means they are always just a single click away. Buttons like ‘Clear Formatting’ or the ‘Format Painter’ may not exactly change your life, but they will cut down on the amount of time you spend faffing around with formatting when copying and pasting text from multiple sources. I can’t remember how I got by without them.
In Excel, formulas can be used to do more than just basic addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. For instance, combining functions like COUNTA (which counts occurrences of specified text) and the wildcard (represented by a *) can be used to count how many times a certain phrase appears within a selection, no matter what text or other data comes before or after it. This could, for example, be used on a list of coverage urls to count how many come from a particular website. What’s also handy is that as more data is added to the selection, the formula automatically updates itself, as will any charts or graphs connected to them.
The best part is that because Excel is used by almost everyone, the majority of the hard work – coming up with the formulas to do the job – has very likely been done already by someone else. A quick search online usually results in what you need.
Why do all the hard work yourself when there's guys like Mr. Excel here who've probably done it already?
Sales and Marketing
Another essential public relations skill is the ability sell a client’s company, product, service or story idea, on the phone, in person and in your writing, so any experience you may have in sales or marketing will prove very useful indeed.
Journalists, especially at the nationals, are notoriously busy people which means you’re only going to have a few seconds to get your concept across before they put the phone down or delete your email. Having the confidence in yourself and your ability to sell already gives you a good foundation from which to work on nailing that pitch.
More tips on pitching national journalists from the B2B PR Blog.
For those who are currently working or aiming to work higher up the PR ladder, sales experience can be used when pitching current and prospective clients. Knowing the best ways to sell what your agency does and how it can benefit a prospect’s business is the key to winning or extending contracts and injecting the budget to fuel the next successful PR campaign.
These days PR is about more than just getting coverage however, and covers disciplines such as SEO, social media and digital marketing. Experience in email marketing can prove a well sought after talent as it can be a great method of generating business leads for clients. Knowing your way around programs like MailChimp or Constant Contact and how to design eye catching and engaging emails will prove very useful indeed as more agencies explore this method of engagement. Learning what makes an effective campaign, how to use auto responders and what makes an effective landing page are all must-have skills for today’s PR professional.
Advanced internet skills
When’s the last time you thought about how you browse the internet?
One of the first things I got in the habit of doing when I started at TopLine was saving all the sites I visit regularly as bookmarks. Since then my bookmarks tab has expanded into all kinds of folders tracking client websites, research for angles, coverage, and useful tools. It might sound basic but it can prove a great time saver and I’m often amazed by how many people don’t do it.
Browser bookmarks can also be synced across multiple devices like your home computer, tablet or mobile so that all the information is available wherever you are. Synching between Apple and Windows is also possible, using the iCloud bookmarks in Chrome or Firefox.
Knowing the anatomy of a URL isn’t something I’ll be putting on my CV or telling the next girl I meet in the pub anytime soon, but it can come in handy on a coverage search.
Paywalls can be very frustrating, especially when all you really need is to find a single story. However, some (including one of the nationals) can be gotten around simply by viewing the page in private browsing or removing part of the URL that registers your visit as being from a non-member (can usually be spotted as long sections of random letters that appear at the end of the string).
Some publications, trade press mostly, have digital archives of their back catalogue hosted online but only link to one or two issues on the site. Viewing the latest issue and deleting parts of the URL like in the example below, or changing dates or issue numbers to the one you’re looking for can occasionally uncover documents that are still hosted on the site, but just aren’t linked to from anywhere.
Viewing the latest issue and changing the URL from
unlocks the issue archive!
Click on the year and issue you need and away you go!
Advanced Google search
Another great public relations skill is knowing how to use the advanced features of Google search to your advantage. You may know already that quotation marks allow you to search for an exact phrase, but Google actually has a whole host of other search options available.
A guide to Google search operators can be found here.
For instance, combining the ‘site:’ operator (limiting your search to a single website) with the date range search (clicking ‘Search Tools’, ‘Any Date’ and then ‘Custom Range’) can be used to search for coverage in a single publication over a particular time period. This is a great tool to use when compiling coverage reports, especially as the websites of many smaller publications have terrible search systems built in, or worse, none at all.
In many ways this is possibly the most relevant public relations skill you could have at the moment. Through tracking visits referred to the client’s site from your PR coverage, Google Analytics can essentially justify exactly where your budget is going. Being able to show that X number of people visited a landing page you’re channelling all your work to, and that Y per cent of those visitors converted into a genuine business lead (eg. by buying a product or signing up for a trial) puts a real-world value on PR – one that's more tangible than Advertising Value Equivalents or potential audience figures.
Google Analytics can be tricky to master but proving you know your way around it, perhaps even completing your Google Analytics Individual Qualification (GAIQ) as members of the TopLine team have done, could make you a valuable asset to any PR agency.
What other skills do you think are essential to public relations? Leave a comment below.