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How to upskill in PR

There are two sides to the upskilling coin: employers teaching their teams additional skills, and employees independently going our there and pro actively learning them. Approaching upskilling from either perspective isn’t as simple as it may seem - it can be costly and time-consuming, and it can be hard to know on which skills, and employees at which level, should be focused on first.

So, in an industry that’s moving forwards faster than ever, we reached out to seven employers and employees in PR for advice on how they approach upskilling in 2024.

Fight the fear of the new

Julia Linehan, CEO and founder of PR agency Digital Voice: “There is often a fear of the new and for many, AI is the latest development to evoke fear in even the most experienced of PR experts. We always go in with the mindset that when you fear something, do it again and again. Try, fail, try again and never stop leaning into new technology.

“It is also important to take only what you need from the latest in tech. Not everything will be right for you or your client partners. Equally, different teams will need to lean in more and some can lean out. Creative, social and multimedia absolutely need to leap in with both feet while content and press teams should still rely on the things that make their work excel - experience, knowledge, creative ideas and human thinking!”

Sometimes it's best to take a bespoke approach…

Chris King, joint MD at PR agency Wildfire:  “Upskilling is as important as ever in PR. As employers we have a duty to develop talent, offer career progression and retain good people.

“We took a self-built approach to upskilling and created a CPD-certified How To Build a Consultant programme.

“With plenty of change and uncertainty in our industry the biggest value we believe we can offer anyone is helping them to develop genuine consultancy skills that empower them for life (in or outside of PR). Things like emotional intelligence, active listening, having difficult conversations, confidently and constructively challenging people, reading the room etc.

“Investing in such a bespoke programme doesn’t come cheap. But, it pays back in droves; from employee satisfaction to client satisfaction, as well as client growth and delivering on our purpose of turning ambition into action.”

… but upskilling doesn’t need to be costly

Hayley Knight, co-founder and communications director at PR agency, BE YELLOW: “Upskilling in PR is now more important than ever, but learning and development doesn’t need to be a large expense, the biggest investment will be your time. PR is changing so rapidly and it isn’t the same as it was 6 months ago, let alone 5 years ago, and it will only continue to evolve. It’s vital that as professionals, we keep up with the latest trends, ways of working and tools that can help us produce better results for clients, and become better professionals.

“At our agency, we offer four day work weeks in which each team member takes a day for professional and personal development, and we feed back what we have learned that day, and discuss how we can implement it into our PR and marketing practice. We learn so much from doing this, and work as a team to improve our skills on a weekly basis.”

Upskilling isn’t just for junior PRs

Lucy Askew, senior digital PR account manager at PR agency Wolfenden: “Upskilling continues to be important for senior roles. The industry is more competitive than ever, and employers are looking for people who have skills that match this. PR can include influencer marketing, copywriting, data collection, client comm, media relations - the list is endless. So having a standout skill can take you from a ‘jack of all trades’ to ‘master of many’.

“One skill that’s increasingly in demand in the digital PR space in particular is data collection and analysis. As this skill typically unlocks the doors to stronger campaigns, automation and reporting.

“Whilst many believe upskilling in this area requires dedicated training, there are countless free and digestible resources including newsletters and blogs. These, as well as YouTube tutorials, have massively increased my own data skills, which are then transferred to upskilling colleagues.”

There’s no one size fits all approach

Gemma White, partner at PR agency FINN Partners: “Upskilling in PR is more important than ever, especially around new technologies. For example, do employees know and understand the agency’s position on generative AI?

“When it comes to L&D, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. We offer a mix of internal webinars, traditional training, sector-specific workshops and 'lunch and learn' sessions to keep employees engaged. Our global mentoring programme is also great for personalised support. Importantly, these opportunities are available across all job levels, equipping us to lead and succeed in the digital age.”

Ambition drives natural upskilling…

Jen Wu, VP people APAC and EMEA at PR agency TEAM LEWIS: “Upskilling has never been more important. Regardless of specialism, industry or career stage. Ambition drives natural upskilling. These individuals are always asking themselves: how does my role continue to make an impact on my peers, my organisation, my industry?

“They see employers providing opportunities in new areas as opportunity, not just in the company’s interest. Upskilling ultimately benefits oneself, even more so during times of job uncertainty.

“Talent is evolving skills faster than ever thanks to accessible virtual and online learning. Gen Zs are also entering the workforce focused on multiple skill development. They’re teaching leaders that too.

“Upskilling though, must always be complemented with the ability to join the dots and maintain great relationships. Upskilling via our e-learning LEWIVERSITY offering, will help many fast track and future proof their careers. But it’s the subtle learnings every day that keep people ahead of the curve.”

… and personal growth should be at the forefront

Caroline Miller, managing director at PR agency Indigo Pearl: “I cannot overstate the importance of continuous upskilling for our agency staff, as a PR agency owner. An effective communicator is naturally a curious person, so learning new skills is second nature to them. The dynamic nature of public relations cannot be denied, and this is even more true in our sector of video games and technology. Staying ahead of the curve means embracing a culture of lifelong learning.

“Our team members must regularly update their skills as digital tools, platforms, and AI evolve rapidly, data-driven campaigns become more important, and crisis management skills become essential in a hyper-connected world. It’s not just about staying relevant; it’s about leading, innovating, and growing personally.

“Anticipating client needs and industry changes requires proactive thinking. In addition, investing in professional development enhances the quality of our service and gives us a competitive edge.

“Leadership must prioritise and facilitate these learning opportunities for our team’s growth and happiness, as well as the success of our company.”

Upskill in both new and established fields

Rhea Freeman, PR adviser, social media and brand expert at agency Rhea Freeman PR: “Upskilling is more important than ever if a PR wants to stay relevant.

As for how to do this, there have never been more easily accessible options.

Online training is huge and platforms such as Google and Meta provide free training covering a range of relevant subjects (depending where the upskilling is required!). There are also companies like Small Business Britain and Enterprise Nation (amongst many others) that provide free training with experts that can be useful as a foundation to a new area, allowing the PR to then do that deep dive and find the right training provided.

It’s worth investing time in all relevant areas, but particularly those that will impact you in the future, such as AI. That said, it is still worth investing in communicating with the right people - even with technology, real life connections are still valuable in the world of PR.

Ethical AI and data analysis are upskilling hot topics

Richard Scarlett, senior partner at PR agency FINN Partners  “I spend a lot of time talking about upskilling on behalf of clients - so this feels quite meta. A couple of sensible areas to invest time in are ethical AI and data analysis, which has become critical for campaign evaluation and demonstrating ROI.

“The automation of routine PR tasks isn’t slowing - and we’ve adapted our training mindset in response. While ‘PR 101’ traditionally focused on those hard, on-the-job skills, our current approach prioritises the development of durable skills like leadership, communication and adaptability. These aren't just career-enhancing, they’re mission critical.”

Upskilling is clearly as vital as ever in PR, but there’s a lot to be considered in how it's done. Employees certainly should view upskilling as an integral part of their own growth, and use the opportunities granted by employers as well as their own initiative to do so.

But equally, employers should deeply consider how, and to which employees, they approach offering avenues of upskilling. This could be in the form of external training programs, professional development days, online training or any other appropriate methods - what makes for the best approach is the one that considers what is best for employees at all levels in the context of the agency.

In terms of what fields to focus on, it is often best to seek a mixture of durable skills, those like leadership and communication which are always needed in the industry, as well as tackling topics at the forefront of the industry. For instance, this means not just educating in the ‘how to’ of burgeoning technical skills such as AI, but also the important areas of understanding around them, in this case the ethics of AI and the agency’s position on its use.

The most important thing is that there is no one size fits all approach to upskilling. It’s crucial to take a step back and consider holistically your approach to get the most out of it.

Written by Alex Beach, acting editor at PRmoment.

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