My colleague, Karla, and I recently had the opportunity to speak to a class of college students as part of a PR 101 class. The students, most of whom were studying communications with an emphasis in PR, were interested in how to get hired once they graduated from school. As we described what a “typical” day looks like for us, we also shared some of the critical skills that are needed to work in marketing communications today.
- Writing. Strong, thoughtful, concise writing is as important today as it ever was. The other critical piece about writing is an understanding of how to write for different audiences (demographics, education levels, etc.), different client cultures (formal clients vs. ones who are much more casual in how they communicate to their audiences) and different channels (Twitter and Facebook vs. op-eds and company newsletters).
- Pitching/Relationships with media. Media outreach is still an important strategy in 2016, even though there are fewer traditional media outlets and reporters than a decade ago. Understanding how to get through to a reporter (or blogger) with information that is useful to them is key. Before emailing or calling any reporter or blogger, communicators need to follow their body of work (this includes their Twitter account if they are active) so they know exactly what he or she covers and can make their pitch relevant to the reporter.
- How to use other channels to communicate with target audiences. Today, there are so many different channels and tools to communicate with audiences – from news releases, blogs, social media platforms, video, e-newsletters, etc. – that understanding which ones to use, and for what purpose, is mandatory.
- Understanding client’s business. As we shared with the students, in an agency environment, we have the opportunity to work with clients across a wide variety of industries. Communications professionals need to develop a keen understanding of the client’s business, competitors, pain points, etc. to effectively support their communications needs.
- Strategic thinking/Problem-solving. Communicators need to be able to think on their feet. Whether it’s identifying big-picture solutions to issues that their clients face or simply applying a different approach to a media pitch in order to secure a placement – a solutions-oriented mindset is a must. While these are skills that oftentimes come with experience, these can be learned for people who are still in school or early in their careers. Staying on top of industry reading, including trends and innovation, understanding the client’s business, asking thoughtful questions, are all ways to begin to develop these skills.
- How to measure. In communications, knowing what and how to measure the work that we do so that it ties back to the client’s business goals is paramount. It’s not enough to measure earned media and social media separately – these strategies should be measured as part of a whole communications program to understand the total impact.
These are just some of the basic skills that will serve people who are interested in the marketing communications field. Above all, enthusiasm, a great sense of curiosity and a willingness to take on any task, no matter how small, will also go a long way as young professionals begin their careers.