Essential new and old skills PR pros must have | Public Relation
The role of a PR professional has expanded into so many areas—digital,
social media, marketing—that it’s hard to know what skills are required to
do this multi-faceted and wide-ranging job.
I recently caught up with noted PR consultant Michael Smart and asked
him to share the skills PR pros must have to succeed today. Here are the
two old and two new skills he says every PR pro should have:
1. The ability to write a simple declarative sentence will never become
To advance ideas and pitch stories, it is critical that you hone your
Clarity and brevity are key when reaching out to journalists. Does the
lightbulb go on when they read your prose? Can they understand exactly what
you’re trying to convey and why it’s important? Will they care?
[RELATED: Overcome your biggest challenges in PR, social media and internal comms]
Many journalists get 400 emails a day, so to pierce the noise you must make
your case with a few well-worded sentences. Reporters are writers and
particularly critical of the prose they receive. If it’s grammatically
incorrect, unconvincing or inaccurate, your credibility as a professional
will be questioned.
2. Always identify and understand your key audiences.
While every PR pro dreams of a placement in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, the readers of those venerated publications
may not actually be the audience for your message.
Before devising a media list or strategy, it’s critical to identify who you
need to reach — who will buy your product or service? How old are they,
where do they live and what are they reading, watching and consuming? Once
you have a clear picture of your audience, you can decide which media
outlets are worth targeting and design your pitches accordingly.
Two essential new skills
1. Match your content to your intended platform.
The days of penning a press release and sending it to 200 reporters are
over. With the proliferation of online outlets and social media
influencers, you will need to reshape the same story for each platform.
Though a news service may still be interested in seeing a press release or
a new research study, an online outlet may prefer a video of the professor
in the lab showing how he works and explaining his key findings. You could
alternatively do an Instagram story highlighting a day in the life of a
It’s important to pick which outlets reach your target audience and then
put forth the effort to create content that will play well on the specific
You also need to be flexible and savvy enough to adapt your outreach to the
individual habits of the reporter or influencer. Know who wants an email at
7 a.m. and know who only reads Twitter notifications. It’s a lot more work,
but the results from personalizing both your pitch and method of outreach
will be worthwhile.
2. Be willing to abandon old structures—and break the rules.
AP style still has its place but because pitching today is so individual,
the way you write for a Buzzfeed pitch cannot possibly follow those
guidelines. If you can adapt your style to the outlet’s style and show that
you understand what they do and what their audience is all about, you’ll be
more likely to catch their attention.
In the past, you would never follow up with a reporter more than twice. Be
prepared to follow your instinct, not an antiquated rule.
If you’ve done your homework, crafted a well-written pitch that’s right up
the alley of the reporter in terms of topics of interest, then keep
following up until you get an answer. Chances are he or she may not even
have seen it. Now that people can call, text, email or tweet at a reporter,
there just aren’t enough hours in the day for them to go through all their
messages and do their job. If you can follow up in a respectful fashion and
include more useful information, you can try to reach out again and still
get a hit.
The PR industry has changed drastically and you’ll need to use both old and
new skills to succeed today. To quote Michael Smart, “If you spend 80
percent of your time on the 20 percent of your list that are most
influential to your audience, you’ll be successful.”
is a PR pro with experience in nonprofit, health and education,
currently Executive Director of Communications and Marketing at
Touro College and University System.
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