Professor on the Future of PR: These Core Skills Must Be Honed for a Successful PR Career
By Karen Mishra, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Marketing, School of Business at Meredith College, Author of “Trust is Everything” and “Becoming a Trustworthy Leader”
The number one PR skill needed today is communicating effectively with all of your stakeholders, which first requires understanding. Before a PR professional even starts writing a news release, he or she must think about whom she/he is writing for: What is the purpose of the release? Where will it be seen? How will it be interpreted by our most important and valued stakeholders?
Too often, PR allows the tools and the tactics to drive the strategy, rather than step back and look at the big picture. That could be the fault of our public relations college coursework, where we focus on teaching the tactics and tools of precise and concise writing skills, how to design a news release for maximum exposure, or now to create a beautiful website. All of those are important, but not until we know whom we are creating them for and why.
Whether it is for a new product release or to contain a crisis, we need to first think who all of our stakeholders are. We often think they are just immediately around us: customers, suppliers, employees. But, more often than not, they are broader than that and overlap with those immediate stakeholders. We might even have stakeholders who are lurking in the shadows of social media, but who crave information in a timely and transparent nature. We need to think broadly about who we impact every day, why they are important, the message we want to send, and the best way to communicate with them.
The message is critical. It should be consistent across stakeholders in order to build and maintain our trust with them. The message should be as transparent as possible (my favorite boss always told me to be truthful about what I know, but not necessarily tell everything I know!). The message should demonstrate our knowledge of the situation at hand so that our stakeholders know that we are the best source for this information—we don’t want them going to a competitor or some other source for information about us. Finally, we want to show our stakeholders that we care about them when crafting our message so that they understand that we always have their best interests at heart.
Then we can now think about how our tools and tactics come into play. Once we have identified the fact that we do have multiple and sometimes overlapping stakeholders, and know what our message is, we can look at each stakeholder to find out where they get their information (offline or online) and what information sources they trust most. Then, we can determine the best ways to share our message with our stakeholders, recognizing that we might be sharing the same message in several different formats in order to reach as many stakeholders as possible.
The best way to learn about managing stakeholders is to begin in school. I always have my students create a public relations plan for a local nonprofit organization so that they can use their new skills that they develop in class right away. I don’t want them to wait until they start a job and then try to figure out how things all work together. A live client is much better than a textbook case because this client is relying on us to give them critical help that they can’t afford otherwise. My students also think through this client case in class, getting feedback from each other and from me. I also encourage them to sit down with their clients and review it with them while they are researching and writing their plans to make sure they are on the right track.
As you might imagine, college students somehow always think that they are the target public and fashion their plan along the lines of something that they would like. This project is always a good way to help them see that there may be times where they will work on a client project where their grandmothers might be the client public. In that case, they will have to consider whether or not their grandmothers use Facebook or know how to tweet. If the answer is no, then what other ways can we communicate our message to their grandmothers so that they are not left out of the conversation? Do your grandmothers visit the grocery store often and read the bulletin boards there? Do they listen to their local public radio stations? Now, they have to think very broadly not only about stakeholders and the message, but about the delivery as well.
I am optimistic about the future of PR professionals. They have so many tools as their disposal to share the good news about their clients. If they just will sit quietly first and consider who the many stakeholders are for their client, those tools will be applied much more effectively.
Karen Mishra is an assistant professor of marketing at the School of Business at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. She teaches courses in global business and digital marketing for Meredith’s MBA program. Mishra is the author of ”Trust is Everything” and “Becoming a Trustworthy Leader.” She can also be found on Twitter @KarenMishra. You can connect with her here, as well:
Published: August 2, 2012 By: