Thanks to the decline of traditional advertising and the rise of social media, young public relations professionals with technical experience are in high demand. While successful companies know the value of good public relations, quantifying that value can be difficult. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to worry about return on investment for the campaigns and things that we’re doing,” says Colette McCullough, a freelance professional based in Austin, Texas. How does a public relations professional quantify their value to a company? McCoullough’s experiences offer several key insights for young professionals seeking an edge in the search for the perfect job.
When McCullough entered the industry over twenty years ago, the Internet was not yet in existence. Still, McCullough wishes she had taken the time in school to develop her technical skills. “Austin (Texas) has such a high tech industry,” she said. While professionals at larger companies can afford to specialize, as a freelancer McCullough does a little bit of everything. “I have to know a little bit of HTML, I have to know some Photoshop, I have to be able to do some database management for some outbound email campaigns that are going on, and I wish I had…gotten ‘techy’ faster.”
Next to writing, technical know-how is fast becoming one of the most valuable skills public relations professionals can have in their back pockets. PR News’ 2015 Salary Survey placed content creation second only to writing as a valuable skill for career advancement. Another study from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations concluded that only 12 percent of professionals with at least 20 years of experience felt comfortable with their social media and digital skills. Of those professionals, the vast majority named HTML and coding as their biggest tech weaknesses. Young public relations professionals who add these technical skills to their toolbox will be much more valuable to potential employers. “There’s a huge sector in tech, and it’s only going to get bigger,” said McCullough
Be flexible and strategic
The expansion of the tech industry and the evolution of social media has blurred the lines between advertising, marketing and public relations. “You can’t really snub marketing because that’s where the real bread and butter is,” says McCullough. “A company is not going to be willing to spend a lot of money without any return.” When public relations professionals join a company’s team of communicators, they become much more valuable and effective. “There are advertising/PR firms because there’s so much overlap,” says McCullough.
Good public relations professionals are strategic thinkers at heart, and a strategy is easier to manage when everyone in the company is on the same page. Marketing strategies and campaigns can help inform and shape public relations strategies and vice versa. Advertising can provide additional reach and insights. Most importantly, the data created and collected by advertisers and marketers can help public relations professionals show their clients a return on investment. At the end of the day, like McCullough said, the single most important indicator of success is the bottom line.