Digital Skills of the Modern PR Professional

Gone are the days when public relations professionals could pump out a press release, gather news clippings and call it a day. The industry has expanded at a rapid rate, and this transformation pushed practitioners to expand their skill sets, embrace new technologies and adapt in the digital age. Traditional PR practices like press release writing, pitching and media interviews will always have a place in this profession, but we no longer have to rely on conventional tactics to tell our brand story.

Our toolbox has grown, it’s just a matter of knowing the right tools and when to use them. Here are a few you will need to make the most of your communications efforts.

PR Software

Whether you’re in the public or private sector, agency or in-house, it’s important to use software that makes our job easier. Cision and MuckRack are two widely used programs for targeting journalists, distributing press releases, monitoring media coverage across multiple social and traditional outlets and analyzing the performance of earned media efforts. These programs are fee-based, but Cison does have a University Program that allows students to learn and use the software for free if your school is registered. I took advantage of this opportunity during my undergrad and it was a great resource to have as a young PR pro. If you’ve graduated or don’t have access to this software, try and find online tutorials, webinars or classes offered through PRSA or another communication association.

Social Media

These are the most used tools in the box. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube should be in the mix of any communications campaign. We use these platforms in our daily lives, but as a PR pros we need to think strategically about these tools and how they’re leveraged to accomplish different tactics. Twitter is useful in your media relations efforts and building working relationships with journalists covering topics relevant to your brand. Facebook should be at the center of your social media outreach efforts. It has the most active users and continues to dominate the space. Snapchat and Instagram have important roles to play when trying to reach younger audiences with fun, creative content. YouTube dominates online video, but live video and stories on FB and IG continue to grow in popularity. Social apps are creating new features every day to enhance the visual experience for brands and their audiences. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of social media to position your company and brand with the technology and online trends that influence our lives.

Photography

Every communications professional should know the basics of photography. We use images in our campaigns and sometimes those photos need to come directly from you. Get your hands on a DSLR and learn about ISO, shutter speed and aperture. A DSLR camera can be intimidating to an amateur with its many buttons, dials and display options, but the hardware is the easy part! Elements like composition, light, story, space and subject are much harder to capture. Try and tell a story with your photos, one that coincides with your brand’s identity and image. I’ve been completing a photography course on Lynda, a great website that offers training and education resources for free if you have a library card. Of course, YouTube is also a wonderful place to learn anything about everything.

I can’t forget about smartphones. We have computers in our pockets and most of them have excellent cameras. They’re convenient, easy to use and great when you’re on the go and need images for social media or other press materials. The smartphone has transformed public relations in so many positive ways. Providing news, apps, photos, videos, audio, notes, search and more, it’s an indispensable tool for today’s PR professional.

Analytics and Monitoring

There are a lot of great paid and free options PR pros can use to evaluate the performance of communications efforts. Evaluation is important for demonstrating the value of your public relations efforts and identifying areas where improvements are needed for future campaigns. Analytics software can track outputs and outcomes and provide data and insights to see how your efforts had an impact on business goals and communications objectives.

On the paid side I really like the Cision Communications Cloud and Meltwater. You can track news coverage, monitor conversations about your brand on social media and gather data to present the impact of your campaign when it’s finished.

Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service on the web, and it’s easy to see why. Its high-level, dashboard-type data is compelling for even casual users, and the software offers in-depth data if you need it. It’s a great free tool to monitor how your website is performing, where visitors are coming from and the content and landing pages they’re gravitating to. For social monitoring I really like Hootsuite. It allows you to schedule posts, moderate discussions, scan relevant news and keep tabs on all of your social pages in one dashboard. Buzzsumo also deserves a mention. This software tracks what sort of topics are trending online and can help your brand locate influencers, analyze hot news topics and identify social platforms and users that are receiving the most engagement around a topic of interest. Piggybacking off trending news that’s relevant to your brand is a great way to stay relevant and visible in a congested digital landscape.

Graphic Design

The Adobe Creative Suite dominates this space. Their products are a little pricey, but if you have an opportunity to buy Photoshop, Indesign, Illustrator for your personal computer or use them at work then do it! Your office may have a dedicated designer, but it doesn’t hurt to have experience with graphic design concepts and software. Creating logos, infographics, newsletters, website designs and other branded items will likely be one of your job duties if you’re working at an agency or in-house. Canva is also a neat graphic design tool for businesses on a budget. It’s a drag-and-drop program to add photos, fonts, designs and other graphics to customizable templates for social media, websites, blogs, print materials and more. The more design knowledge and skills you have, the more of an asset you will be to your agency or in-house PR team.

Blogging

Many brands have their own blog. My favorite platform is WordPress because it’s free and easy to use. Blogging is a great outlet to share updates about your company-client or fun content from events, holidays, award ceremonies and other company outings. With blogs, we have a platform to express ideas and information without the rigidness of a press release. The writing style can be more conversational and less formal. You know your company culture best. The culture should be expressed through your blogging efforts. Know your audience, craft content with that audience in mind and write with an authentic voice.

A steady stream of content is key. Before you start writing, identify people who can provide content as regular contributors. Everyone from CEOs and managers to entry-level associates and interns have their own unique perspectives and should be involved in the publishing process. The more people who contribute, the more diversified and complete your narrative will be. Develop an editorial calendar, brainstorm content ideas with your team and set goals and expectations for your blog.

SEO

Chances are your company or the brand you represent has a website. People find web content using search engines, almost always Google. With millions of web pages competing for views and visibility, it’s a challenge to organically bring more traffic to your website. That is where Search Engine Optimization can be useful. PR people should have a basic understanding of SEO and how it’s used to create a better user experience on websites. Here are some basics:

  • Identify keywords or phrases. Put them in your headlines and body text, but don’t overstuff your content.
  • Inbound links. Create compelling copy, content that people want to share and link to on their own websites, blogs or social media. Be a thought leader and a reliable and relevant source. Build your site’s credibility and create good content consistently so other websites will be encouraged to link to your content.
  • Research. Find out what people are searching and tailor your content to meet their needs. Good content marketing is about identifying why people need to read your content and what search terms they’re using to find it.

Shooting and Editing Video

Let’s borrow a play from the journalism playbook. Newsrooms are shrinking and journalists are expected to do more with less. That means becoming their own videographer and editor. PR folks should be shooting their own video, editing, packaging multimedia projects and rolling them out during communications campaigns. Budgets can be tight, and having experience with cameras and software is essential for today’s practitioner. For shooting video, I always refer to this list from the Berkley Advanced Media Institute. It’s simple and straightforward with important techniques for capturing quality video. You might have a great story to tell, but without applying proper techniques your videos won’t be polished or professional. For editing, Final Cut Pro is my first choice for software. Many editors also use Adobe Premiere. Both are extensive programs with a ton of tools and features. YouTube, Lynda and other sites have great training and tutorial videos on FCP. If you have access to the software through work or on your personal computer, spend some time learning how to organize your media, navigate the timeline, work with audio, learn tools/shortcuts and streamline your workflow from import to export.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start if you work in the exciting field of public relations. If you have any suggestions or input on the topics I’ve discussed, please leave a comment!