Why PR pros need real social skills

Opening up the agency’s ‘recruitment’ file this week, it’s interesting to see how job descriptions have changed in PR over the past 10 years or so.

In particular, it’s notable how digital / social skills have crept stealthily up the rankings in almost every executive job ad: from the bullet points at the end, up to the body copy and up to almost the first thing we, as an industry, now look for.

There’s no doubt that social and digital savvy is an indispensable part of today’s PR/marketing skillset; social media is here to stay and anyone who wants to carve out a career in PR needs to have that in their locker.

We’ve also blogged at length about another must-have for the PR professional, namely copywriting skills. As we’ve said time and time again, while very few of us are full-time copywriters we are all in the business of creating content – so we need to choose our words carefully.

However, reflecting on the changing face of the PR job description, there’s one skill that doesn’t get talked about as much these days, but that is still every bit as important as copywriting competence or digital dexterity – we’re talking about social skills. Not social media skills, but actual social skills.

To make it in PR, you need to be a people person. You need to be able to get along with people, make a good impression on them; you need to be able to talk to people and get them talking to you. You need to be able to put the ‘public’ in public relations.

After all, in the average day the average PR professional probably spends more time talking than anything else. Talking to colleagues, talking to journalists, suppliers, and of course clients – not just ‘the client’ but multiple people within the client organisation, from the receptionist to the marketing department to the MD’s office and all points between.

People are what make things happen in PR. People are the ones who drive the meetings, the networking, the brainstorming and – yes – the socialising and the fun that’s also part of PR. So if you’re eyeing a career in the industry, you need to have those people skills.

Are people skills on the rise? Are they a priority in today’s world? It doesn’t seem so, particularly among the younger generation who seem to spend an awful lot of time glued to their phones, locked to their screens – they might be learning about social, but they’re not learning about being sociable.

That observation goes way beyond the PR industry, obviously. But anyone who thinks that social media skills alone are a golden ticket to a successful career in PR needs to look up from their smartphone. It’s great to be social savvy, but there’s no substitute for social skills.

(Photo via Perceptive Travel @perceptivetrav)