I’m not saying you need all of these, or even any of them, but I’m often asked ‘what’s next’ and what smart public relations and communications professionals can do to make themselves more useful to their organisations. Here are a few suggestions.
1) Learn To Code
It’s not enough to have a static message anymore, you should consider building interactive digital assets. They can seriously enhance a story and make it much harder to ignore you. Check www.globalrichlist.com for an example. It’s as simple as data exported from an EXCEL spreadsheet, displayed in an engaging way and with a nice interface for users to input their data. It’s not the most advanced piece of code you’ll ever encounter but that’s the point – if an organisation had that ability within its communications team there would be no need to outsource to a software developer. A bit of ‘coding awareness’, your confidence would grow and you’d see opportunities to take drab press releases and turn them into multimedia attractions. There was a time when a skill such as ‘typing’ was the domain of a few specialists, now it’s something we all expect to do. I think the same will be true of coding in a few years.
2) Become A Drone Pilot
You know video is where it’s at and think of the possibilities if you were able to take to the skies to get your footage! Hiring in outside help is expensive and means everything has to be planned in advance. You’re beholden to someone else’s availability. So why not learn? A decent drone can be yours for around £1,000, follow the safety guidelines and acceptable use and you can build up some practice, before undergoing more formal training and then seeking certification for commercial drone flying. This has the potential to turn into a nice sideline business of your own.
3) Analyse Data
It amazes me the number of organisations where communications and PR teams DON’T have access to website data analytics. You don’t need to know Google Analytics inside out but I think everyone in our field should have a grasp of the basics. Where do website visitors come from, which social media channel is the most effective in terms of your business objectives (not just the number of visitors) what do they do on your site, the pages that work, and those that don’t. That allows you to make informed decisions about what to change and goes some of the way to solving the issue around ‘how do we measure the success of our PR work?’. Get to grips with Google analytics ‘Goals’ and set up filters to keep the data pure. Lots of free training is available for this and it’s nowhere near as daunting as it looks.
When I started my career, the accountants always ended up running the place. That’s starting to change. Smart organisations recognise the communications revolution and the need to adapt. That means a change in culture – becoming more transparent, sorting out their ethics and starting to engage their staff. That’s where you come in. There’s an opportunity for communications professionals to get right to the top. Are leaders born or bred? I’ll leave that to the experts but I know what a 12 week course of management training did for my confidence back in 2003 – even if you don’t end up an MD or CEO it’ll take you forward in other ways. Better still if you can get your employer to pay for the training. Get in the bosses’s face when they’re talking about succession planning.
If you can back up confident presentation skills with substance you’re in a great position. Sometimes you’ll be pitching to external clients and stakeholders, sometimes it’s your own team or another department…the fact is standing up and talking – explaining, convincing, persuading – is becoming a daily part of our working lives. I meet people all the time who tell me they’re either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at presenting as though somehow once you’ve done it a few times your abilities are set in stone. It’s not like that at all. Take control, get some practice and feedback and start presenting with confidence. Want to improve your presentation skills – you can.
6) IT/Computer Literacy Skills
My Dad is amazing at DIY. And I’m abysmal. I watched him doing some work in my house once and realised that where I’d always thought he was blessed with some sort of incredible skill and talent in this area he actually isn’t. Instead, he’s got a solid understanding, a tonne of experience but above all an attitude that when he encounters a new problem, he’ll find a way round it. He expects to be able to solve the problem. Sometimes it involves trial and error. Sometimes he’ll look up the answer in a book or on the internet. Sometimes he’ll ask someone more experienced and skilled than himself. There’s no innate gift. Whereas when I try a DIY job I lose my mind at the slightest issue and never recover. It’s the same for some people with IT and computer literacy. What do you do if you can’t hear yourself on Skype? How do you set up Dropbox to allow someone else to send you files? Do you know how to turn on ‘screen mirroring’ on your laptop? There’s a myriad of things of course and I’m not for a minute suggesting you go behind the IT department’s back and start changing settings without permission. Instead, get a grip on the basics and an understanding of their world. There are some things you WON’T be able to do and if your IT colleagues recognise you as someone that’s made an effort to understand them, it’ll hold you in good stead. And being able to quickly use your phone and laptop to their full potential will make your life much easier and you’ll be more effective and confident in your role.
7) Practice Mindfulness
Us humans were never designed to live in towns and cities let alone carry mobile phones around with us all day. Work, rest and play have all changed dramatically in the last few years and since the economic collapse of 2008 we’ve all probably felt an increase in pressure to some degree. It’s probably not going away anytime soon and the one constant is change. It seems that change is constantly relentless and some pretty smart people are predicting even greater ‘digital disruption’ lies ahead, impacting every business and organisation significantly in the next few years. Driverless cars anyone?! We’ve all got a responsibility to look after our health and wellbeing and it’s great that some of the stigma around mental health is now being overcome. It improves our lives and makes us more effective – why wouldn’t you want to embrace it! ‘Mindfulness’ is the current term that we hear a lot but you might find value in particular books, yoga, meditation, or where appropriate some form of counselling. Think about your mental health but also learn to understand everyone else you meet will have their own world view and their own way of working. There are some great practitioners working in this field – Connie McLaughlin for example is doing some outstanding work with people to lead teams.