This past Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend Chicago PRSA’s “Ask the Experts” event, featuring a panel of executives from five of the city’s most prominent agencies – Rich Jernstedt of Fleishman-Hillard, Janet Cabot of Edelman, Joel Curran of MS&L, Susan Howe of Weber Shandwick, and this blog’s proprietor, Ketchum’s own Ron Culp (a.k.a. Culpwrit).
For someone who’s still trying to lock down his first entry-level position in the midst of an undeniably terrifying job market, the prospect of listening to five senior-level agency leaders discuss their predictions for 2010 was simultaneously exciting and nerve wracking. I would, however, leave the event feeling much more optimistic than I did when I walked in.
All five panelists felt bullish about PR’s chances in the coming year. In particular, they believe that PR’s aggressive push into the social media space has the industry poised to grab a larger share of the available marketing dollars, with more and more companies recognizing the value of two-way communication. They also noted that many businesses are finally realizing that a down economy is one of the best times to ramp up your communication efforts.
To take advantage of these opportunities, aspiring PR professionals must recognize and learn the new skills that will become more significant parts of the PR practitioner’s job description in the coming years. One that was mentioned specifically is digital content creation. The age of non-user friendly, static corporate Web sites is quickly coming to an end. PR pros will need to know how to craft interesting, SEO friendly pieces for company Web sites and blogs.
Young people will also need to better understand the practical applications of social media. Multiple panel members noted that everyone in PR needs to be a social media expert. This requires much more than simply writing on your friends’ Facebook walls and following celebrities on Twitter. You need to understand what types of information users are looking for on various platforms and know how to convey your message appropriately for your target audience. This is what the panel referred to as “the new math.” It’s the idea that we no longer try to blast information out to millions of people in hopes of reaching a few of the “right” ones, but now work to reach out directly to those key influencers who can spread your message organically.
Although these and other new skills will become increasingly important, the panel made sure to point out that the fundamentals of the business have not changed. Basic skills, like the ability to write well and communicate effectively with media, will remain essential, regardless of the tools we use. In short, this is a time to add weapons to your PR arsenal, while sharpening up those you already have.
(David Heiser is a 2009 graduate of the College of Charleston with degrees in communication and sociology. He is seeking a full-time agency position in the Chicago market when his brand/food internship at Ketchum ends next month. You can contact David through his blog, DavidGHeiser.com).