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You must constantly update your skills to thrive in modern public relations

Do you need any qualifications to succeed in PR? Well, of course, they aren’t mandatory, but they can certainly help. And this doesn’t mean getting a PR degree or gaining a PR qualification just at the start of your career, but constantly updating your skills. After analysing top communications professionals throughout Europe, the European Communication Monitor findings suggest that making the effort to continue gaining knowledge will benefit your career. Dr Ángeles Moreno, professor of Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid and co-author of The European Communication Monitor book Communication Excellence, says: “Our analysis of over 20,000 senior communicators across Europe enabled us to identify the highest performing practitioners and also to distil down what makes those people tick, what they do in their day-to-day work.” Moreno concludes that a key element of success is being “sagacious”.

Spot your own weaknesses
Describing what this means, Moreno says: “Put simply, it’s having an awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses. You should build on your capabilities and high-level competencies, but also ameliorate for those areas you are less capable or certainly lack knowledge or competence. For today’s practitioners, examples might be understanding big data or dealing with the growing automation of the communications sector with social bots and artificial intelligence which are taking a more significant place in our day-to-day work.”

Read up
The first way to get new skills, says Moreno, is to do some reading: “It may seem obvious, but our busy lives leave us short of time for reading except on our hand-held devices. Read books, journals, practitioner magazines, blogs and any trusted and prestigious online resources.”

Talk to people
The next step is to share learning. “The best practitioners are well informed and keep abreast of contemporary issues and debates. Sharing this new knowledge with your peers is then a great way of reflecting and testing your thinking, particularly with diverse members of your team and working community (different age, gender, ethnicity or cultural background). It also develops others and is a foundation of a good mentoring culture. They will then do the same for you in turn.”

Go on courses
Last, but not necessarily least, you should learn from professional bodies: “Obvious places to turn to for professional development are accredited training courses through national universities or professional associations. Do an audit – or seek help to do so – of your professional skills and competencies (for example here). Look for the gaps.”

To find out what qualifications are the most useful in the UK communications industry these days, we asked recruiters for their advice and spoke to a senior communicator to find out what skills have been most useful in his career.

What recruiters say

Katie Trinder, marketing director for talent specialists Dalmatian Systems: “There’s a lot of focus these days on digital ability, so make sure any qualifications you have provide you with experience in Photoshop, video/audio editing, SEO optimisation and web design, these will all stand you in good stead if you’re trying to progress your career.

“If you’re just starting out, then there’s a number of qualifications you can look at, a degree in journalism (either print or broadcast), UK Bachelor's degree or equivalent in a PR-related discipline (business, marketing, management, communication, media studies), The CIPR offers a range of qualifications in PR/employee engagement/crisis communications/psychology of communications, and The Chartered Institute of Marketing also offers a range of marketing/digital qualifications/market research/advertising/analysis. Ideally, you’d also be NCTJ accredited. It’s also important to keep up with the latest developments so well worth building up CPD credits.

“Also project management awareness, courses such as Prince2 is helpful when working in a programme environment. It's that's not essential, just would definitely give you an edge in that field.”

Caroline Cookson, managing consultant at F1 Recruitment: “Additional courses and qualifications are important, but so is networking and gaining a general commercial awareness. It’s fundamental to get a broader industry perspective on marketing in general and the role that PR and marketing can play and contribute to business. Networking, blogging, tweeting, attending industry events and also having an opinion on industry issues and getting behind initiatives such as BAME2020 will not only raise your profile but will open the door to wider opportunities in marketing.

“Also, securing a senior mentor in the industry, can really help you develop your career. Someone with a career you aspire to, so they can share their rich experience and give you good job advice in terms of your career choices. 

“Seizing control of your career right from the outset is vital, don’t wait around for promotion to come to you or for your boss to recognise your efforts – going the extra mile, getting immersed in the industry and being involved in important industry developments and discussions will ensure your reputation precedes you.” 

Case study

David Alexander, managing director at agency Calacus Public Relations: “When I moved from journalism to PR, I knew that there was plenty to learn about the role of gamekeeper. Being a poacher was, in my mind, a lot easier and that was part of the attraction of moving into PR.

“But it’s dog-eat-dog in a lot of bigger agencies and billable time took priority over personal development, even if it would ultimately benefit the company as much as the employee.

“I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could and over the course of time, there is now a lot more in terms of resources for PR newbies to learn from. 

“I also committed to taking the CIPR Chartered Practitioner qualification and worked hard to ensure I passed it first time. There’s certainly an argument that practical experience trumps academic study, as I have seen myself with some PR graduates who know theory but have no idea how to do the basics of PR, but we work in an ever-evolving industry and continuous professional development is key.

“I would like to see the larger agencies do more to support their staff to undertake professional training on a regular basis. Clients, staff and indeed our very industry demands it if we are not to get left behind by other disciplines that could eat our lunch.”

A career in PR can be exhausting, but no matter how busy you are, if you want to get to the top you need to find time to learn new skills. If you think you already know it all, then you definitely don’t!

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