What digital skills should a PR PRO have?

PR agencies are all trying to figure out how best to take advantage of the shift to digital.  The main point of debate for most agencies is whether they should embed digital skills across the agency or simply create a group of digital gurus.  This is a real challenge and hard to get right.  Given we all know that in time digital is going to be as commonplace in PR as the press release has been in the last 50 years, it would seem to make sense to take the route of spreading the skills across the agency.  The counter argument to that though is that some of the skills needed to excel at digital communications are not ones all PR people can easily learn and are not ones they’ll always need.  Some skills are so specialized that to load them on to the skill list of the average PR consultant is simply unrealistic at best and a waste of time at worst.  Looked at this way it seems logical that some middle ground is the answer.  Yes PR operators need to understand digital but they don’t need to be masters of everything, instead they need to call on experts to help them out.  In many ways it’s like asking a crisis comms expert to come in when you need one.  Most PR operators know the basics and could make a pretty good job of handling most crises but when a company’s reputation is on the line it seems sensible to bring in an experienced pro.

So what digital skills should a PR PRO have?  Here’s my suggested list:

  1. They need to understand the basic online analytical tools that are available to capture what is being said on Twitter, Facebook, a Ning or Grouply site etc.  They also need to be able to interpret the results of these social media measurement tools and connect the dots between this data and other data such as traditional media measurement output.
  2. They need to know how to manage a community so that it becomes a real community and not just their client posting to a sea of indifferent followers.
  3. They need to be able to create content that is suited to the various platforms the Internet offers.  This is potentially the most difficult area as it requires PR people to move away for pure text-based content to visual images, audio and video as means of influencing people.  PR people need to be able to think in terms of the impact an image or a video or a  can have on someone’s perception of a brand.
  4. They need to understand search.  This of course means SEO not just how to look something up on Google.  It therefore means knowing how to optimize text, images and video so people find them.  This is an area that is evolving.  Right now all PR people should learn the basics but equally every PR agency should have access to an expert.

If you are just starting out, or have been in the industry for some time, these are skills that are going to be essential in the next few years.  There are of course many others but in my view if you have a grasp of these you will be on the right track.

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11 Comments on “What digital skills should a PR PRO have?”

  1. Tom Foremski says:

    It’s a good start Tim. As you say, it’s important to know the basics of those skills, you can always bring in experts to do the heavy lifting but at least know what skills are needed and how to apply them. That way, you can jump in and fix things quickly, if needed, without having to wait for the experts.

  2. Tom Foremski says:

    PS: Let add me add one for your list:

    - How to deal with a Twit fight in the most effective manner.

    My solution: stay away for a few hours so that the other person digs a hole for themselves and you can return looking calm and composed while the other person is frothing and cursing :)

  3. timdyson says:

    It’s amazing how Twitter has become such an important tool for PR people. Pretty soon a twitter feed will be the modern day equivalent of the wire services.

  4. Andrew Walsh says:

    I think they should get to know the internet search optimisation agencies – they could be their new clients. Clever PR has the ability to make the natural search side the of the page (ie the big part that everybody looks at) more effective. PR could become natural search optimisation. Tacking on PR fees to monster media buying budgets would make economic sense. The challenge for PR is to finding the opportunity to pitch their services on an ROI basis when the advertiser client has their wallet open. Media buying JV anyone ?

  5. Marc Hausman says:

    Tim — is it “digital” or “social media” skills? That may be a good topic for another post.

    We’ve found the important skill to develop is the ability to produce thought leadership content that engages, educates and, when appropriate, entertains. That’s a core part of being a public relations professional and why I believe PR is uniquely qualified to own the social media program.

    The technical capabilities (i.e. analytics, SEO, Web 2.0 platforms, etc.) can be managed by a specialized employee or outside consultant. In the end, they’re just tools.

  6. timdyson says:

    Good question. I use the phrase digital as I worry that many PR agencies are taking a narrow view of the challenge. I agree that many of the deeper technical aspects of digital need to be handled by specialists BUT i believe all PR people need a grounding in areas such as SEO and analytics.

  7. [...] After the jump, he offers his suggestions about which digital skills PR pros should have. This post originally appeared on Dyson’s blog, A View from Silicon [...]

  8. [...] CEO Tim Dyson gave his two-cents today on what digital PR pros need to know, in order to excel in the industry, and it has a lot to [...]

  9. Brennan says:

    I found this article through PRWise in LinkedIn, and I have to say that you really summed up how I feel about digital PR. Nice and concise, I’ll link to you on my blog! (Which has maybe, three readers? Heh.)


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