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PR professionals’ skills and competencies not fit for modern future proof public relations

This blog is by Stuart Bruce, an international PR adviser and trainer who is globally recognised as a pioneer in modernised public relations.

The State of the Profession 2017 survey by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) reveals that the PR profession still has a very long way to go before the skills and competencies of its practitioners meet the needs of modern future proof public relations best practice.

The evidence in the figures show not enough PR practitioners are spending time on emerging PR skills that should now be a vital part of professional practice and that recruiters still don’t understand all of the important skills that PR professionals need to work today.

One of the most alarming is that ‘monitoring and evaluation’ is only looked for by 59% of employers when recruiting for senior public relations roles. This statistic is in stark contrast to the fact that 77% claim that ‘strategic management’ is a key skill they look for. This makes no sense as it impossible for a senior PR practitioner to be truly ‘strategic’ if they don’t understand the role that measurement, evaluation and data analysis plays in shaping strategy. Just 21% look for ‘monitoring and evaluation’ when recruiting for junior PR roles, when in fact a good understanding of how to use measurement on a day-to-day basis is essential for incrementally improving the work they do.

As well as ‘strategic management’ (77%) the other top skills sought when recruiting senior candidates for public relations roles are leadership and management (82%) and knowledge of current affairs and industry trends (73%).

Another very worrying finding is that while digital and social written communication is considered an important skill by 78% when recruiting for a junior PR position it falls to just 59% when recruiting for a senior PR position, a difference of 19 points. In contrast traditional written communications is considered important by 84% for junior PR positions and 71% for senior PR positions, a difference of just 13 points. This is worrying because it implies that some recruiters think digital and social is something that can be delegated to junior people and isn’t important enough for senior people to have to learn how to do it. Or equally worrying the recruiters might have fallen for the myth that youngsters or the mythical ‘millennials’ are just going to be instinctively better at it. Neither could be farther from the truth.

However, it also highlights another glaring problem. Just 35% of PR practitioners say they spend most or some time on photo and video creation and editing. Admittedly it is up seven points since last year, but is still shockingly low and indicates that too many PR people still don’t understand the importance of multimedia communication or if they do then lack the skills to do it.

This is reflected in the figures for recruitment with photo/video editing being a skill sought by just 22% of recruiters for a junior PR position and even worse 9% for senior PR practitioners. In 2017 basic photo and video production should be a core skill, just as integral to public relations excellence as writing is.

The table below shows which skills and competencies organisations look for when recruiting for public relations roles at junior and senior levels.

Which skills and competencies does your organisation look for when recruiting for roles? | CIPR State of the Profession 2017 | table

It is a similar alarming picture for both qualitative and quantitative data analysis where the figures are just 6% and 7% respectively for recruiting junior PR practitioners and only 25% and 26% for senior PR professionals. The reason that the low figures for ‘monitoring and evaluation’ and ‘qualitative/quantitative data analysis’ are so alarming is that they should all be a standard part of day-to-day public relations activity for everyone from the most junior PR practitioner to the most senior PR professional. Evaluation isn’t just something you tag on the end so you can show how successful you’ve been so you can justify your budget or salary. The real value of measurement and data analysis is in insight before you even create your PR strategy and for continuing insight as you implement other activity so you’re constantly tweaking and improving what you do.

SEO is another skill that is shockingly low on the sought after skills list from recruiters with just 7% for junior practitioners and 8% for senior practitioners. Alarming when you remember that Richard Edelman refers to Google as “the world’s biggest reputation management engine.”

On a more positive note there has been a ten point rise in the number of respondents spending most or some of their time on strategic planning (69%), making it the third most common task for PR practitioners, but still behind content creation (81%) and media relations (73%). However, it is impossible for PR practitioners to be implementing the very best modern PR practice in content creation and media relations if they don’t also understand analytics, measurement and evaluation because these are the competencies that enable them to do everything else better.

Also on the up by six points is public affairs and lobbying. I wonder if this is partially as a result of the continued move towards regional devolution and the uncertainty created by the Brexit vote?

Despite the much talked about increasing importance of paid media as an important public relations channel it still sits at the bottom of the table with just 14% of PR practitioners saying they spend most or some of their time on advertising. The only task or competency to have shown a reduction was internal communications which was down by 4% points, which still means that half (50%) of practitioners cited it.

Respondents were also asked to cite their top three perceived strongest competencies and their top three weakest ones. The perceived strengths were traditional written communication, strategic management and leadership and management. The top three perceived weaknesses were quantitative data analysis, email marketing and qualitative data analysis.

It is also interesting that the research reveals a clear correlation between learning and earning.Stephen Waddington explains how PR practitioners committed to qualifications and learning and development earn more.

The findings from the CIPR State of the Profession survey reflect a lot of what I find when providing both PR consultancy and PR training to my clients. There is a huge demand for help with measurement and evaluation as many practitioners are starting to realise that it is an integral part of a successful public relations strategy.

For the third year running, respondents were asked to reveal how they spent their time. This year’s study combines the tasks/competencies respondents said they spend most and some of their time on to reveal the most common areas of practice. The figures below reveal how PR practice has evolved over the past twelve months.

How PR practitoners spend their time on different tasks/competencies | CIPR State of the Profession 2017 | table

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