I am thrilled to be serving on the host committee for PRSA’s 2010 International Conference: Powering PRogress. This year’s Conference comes at a pivotal time. Disasters like the BP oil spill and the mistrust in major institutions has brought the need for public relations to the forefront. And, to be honest, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
When the economy took a downturn, many companies’ communications departments took a hit, while a number of agencies nationwide laid off thousands of highly talented professionals due to the lack of business. I can relate because I was one of thousands of public relations professionals laid off during the recession. Many organizations did not see the value of public relations because it wasn’t “a revenue generator.”
But, thanks to the explosion of social media over the last couple of years, public relations is making a comeback. Today, many organizations need highly experienced public relations professionals to juggle the many different media, craft communications that best connect with their audiences, put out fires in a short time frame, and ensure that their companies’ brands and integrity remain intact.
So, what are my thoughts about PR today, and what is my advice to the next generation of public relations professionals? Here are a few:
Just because social media has exploded as a primary means of communications, don’t throw away traditional PR. I remember having a conversation with my very good friend and mentor about how I don’t really write press releases anymore or work with the media, and she told me, “Don’t get rusty.” She was right. A successful public relations professional integrates traditional PR with new media. People are still going to watch the news and still read magazines so don’t lose those relationships.
Being a good writer is a valuable asset. Writing is hard and takes good discipline and thinking. It is a skill that must be honed even if you consider yourself a “good writer.” As your company’s PR person, you are going to find yourself needing to be quick on your feet and writing on demand, whether it’s getting an urgent message out on your social networks or drafting a press release on a monumental event for your company.
As public relations professionals we are always educating our constituents. Whether it’s our colleagues, our clients or our customers, we are always educating our constituents, from reinforcing the importance of our messaging among our employees to putting together an event to attract new and existing customers — you always need to be developing ideas to keep them informed.
No matter how much experience you may possess, be sure you are always learning. I joined my current company, The Matrix Group, about a year ago. Matrix Group is an interactive agency. As an individual, I have seen myself evolve as a professional, adding a range of expertise behind my name related to online communications and social networking.
So, what skills do you believe it takes for a public relations professional to be successful?
Sherrie Bakshi, communications maven, Matrix Group International, has more than 10 years of experience in public relations. She has managed public relations activities for a variety of clients, including nonprofit organizations and trade associations to lifestyle and consumer companies. She currently works at Matrix Group in Arlington, Va., ranked as one of the top interactive agencies in the Washington, D.C., area. At Matrix Group, she works closely with clients on their online communications strategies and social networking outreach. Bakshi is also a freelance writer and an entrepreneur, launching Stylee PR & Marketing, a successful public relations agency, with Vladia Jurcova Spencer, in 2004 in Charleston, S.C. Together, they developed and implemented highly successful campaigns, which helped elevate the city of Charleston, S.C., as a top destination for food and art, as well as launched FireFly Vodka, the South’s premier vodka, which is now available across the United States. Stylee remains a successful agency under the leadership of Spencer. Connect with Sherrie on LinkedIn and on Twitter, @sher_32.
Join Sherrie along with other members of the PRSA National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) at the PRSA 2010 International Conference: Powering PRogress, October 16–19, in Washington, D.C.!
Excellent commentary. Along with outstanding written and verbal communications skills, public relations professionals have to be able to think strategically and counsel clients on how to take advantage of opportunities and minimize threats.
Thank you so much for your comment. I think the role of public relations professionals (especially in times like these) has become very valuable to companies. And, you are right, pr professionals have the ability and talent to counsel clients on what steps they need to take in any situation.
Keith, just between you and me, and the estimated 35,000 other professionals (that number is probably low) in the public relations business, public relations is very real, and no, not everyone can do it. Public Relations is founded in communication skills. Believe me, not everyone can communicate effectively. But there is so much more. Public Relations is a function of understanding socio-economic theory and psychology. The true professional understands his or her publics and represents clients accordingly. We’re not just the “mouth-piece” anymore, or a talking head. The effective practioner can move public opinion and shape society. These are pretty tall orders for an effective communicator. Believe me, not everyone can do it. I’ve been in the business for more than 30 years and have, fortunatley, always been employed, and always had a paycheck. Am I rich? I am richer and more fulfilled for having worked in this wonderful profession.
Now, to your other issue. There has been a great deal of exchange over the years about licensing and who can practice. I am not a proponent of such. I say, ineffective practioners–I won’t call them professionals–won’t make it in this business. And yes, it drives me nuts when “just anybody” hangs a shingle and opens their public relations practice without the education and understanding of our business, but that’s why our profession is so important. It’s fundation is based on the principles held in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Unfortunately, it has happened too often. Former elected officials, spend time in prison, comeout and immediate open their public relations office. It doesn’t say much about our ethics and leads the media to call us “flacks.” Aaaagh!
I have heard the same types of comments, but as Roger said above, it takes a certain personality with a specific skill set and expertise. Public relations is not a fluff career, you can make a very, very good salary, and by far not everyone can do it. As public relations practitioners, our clients (including internal clients) hire us because we articulate our companies’ messages through a variety of communications effectively, we ensure that the integrity of our brand is maintain and we are experts not only in our specific field but also within the industry or industries that we work in. And, if you are looking into entering a career in PR-this is a great time. Hope this inspires you to enter a career in PR.