A Mass Comms Curriculum Alone Short-Sheets Tomorrow’s PR Pro

Posted on November 9, 2009

The Future Of Communications is Today

Guest Blog

Communications is in an era of tremendous change. Traditional corporate and marketing communications models that allowed a company to have a significant level of control over the message and conversation (one-to-many communications) have become irrelevant.

We are now in a time where the consumers are empowered, and 95% of the conversation about your product is taking place outside of your Web page (many-to-many communications). The old tools and strategies need to be re-imagined, and new ones invented. This is a whole new game for today’s communications professional.

I wanted to find out what my heroes thought were going to be the key skill sets needed to succeed in communications over the next few years.

Each industry has its legends, and high tech PR is no different. Decades ago, as a very young child, I remember hearing stories around the campfire about the high tech public relations maverick Lou Hoffman…. Okay, that’s not true. I just wanted to say it. However, Lou’s name has been linked with Silicon Valley’ public relations elite for as long as I have been in corporate communications.

Lou Hoffman is the writer for Ishmael’s Corner, and the CEO of The Hoffman Agency. A communications agency that has been at the vanguard of helping high tech companies communicate compelling messages across the globe for 20 years. They have been named the PR Agency of the Year in both the United States and Asia by PRWeek magazine.

Accept no knock offs, fakes, or seconds. We only use 100% genuine communications smarties on the Digital Marketing Mercenary. …Well, at least when the regular guy is not writing the blog….

This is the first of a two-part guest blog series. Dan Green, Principal of VPofMarketing.com, Marcom Match, and the recruiter to the high tech marketing stars, writes part two. Part two posts next Monday.

–Steve Farnsworth

Master of The (PR) Universe: Lou Hoffman

A Mass Comms Curriculum Alone Short-sheets Tomorrow’s PR Pro

By Lou Hoffman, @LouHoffman

Steve originally approached me to share my perspective on the changing role of internal PR practitioners.

No question, the economic downturn has been one catalyst for change.

I can’t think of one corporate PR department – with the possible exception of the Johnson & Johnson PR folks who support Purell – that hasn’t been asked to do more with less after a reduction in staff or agency budget or both.

Yet, the more I thought on this topic, the more I came to realize the skills and way of thinking that will elevate tomorrow’s corporate PR pro are the very same traits that will enable tomorrow’s agency PR practitioner to succeed.

Don’t get me wrong.

I appreciate there are marked differences between an internal and external role, although my own internal experience was limited to the PR department of a union called the California School Employees Association (CSEA).

The internal demands of serving so many different stakeholders alone require a certain quality that defies definition. At the tactical level, shepherding a news release through the labyrinth innocuously known as the corporate review process requires finesse and patience.

But the same macro issues impact both internal and external professionals – hence, the decision to look at the future of the overall PR professional from a skills perspective.

I’m going to call this PR person of the future “Ruvin” (squished together my parents’ two names; not above looking for ways to one-up my siblings with the holidays around the corner).

Here’s the key.

Ruvin must command interdisciplinary skills.

Time Magazine ran a provocative Q &A last month with Malcolm Gladwell who pontificated that aspiring journalists should skip J-school and study other domains. He stressed that today’s journalist must bring something more to the table than reporting skills. As exhibit A, he pointed to Jonathan Weil from Bloomberg who broke the Enron story thanks to financial acumen as much as reporting expertise.

I’m not ready to say Ruvin should bail on a mass comms degree, but he/she might if the school’s curriculum doesn’t have the flexibility to cut across multiple disciplines.

Because Ruvin needs finance to read a balance sheet like Brother Weil.

Ruvin also needs videography, photography and editing skills that exceed your garden-variety postings on Facebook.

And don’t forget computer sciences, where programming and an affinity for adopting the latest software tools provide the means to “write on the Net.”

It might have been years since Ruvin walked into a traditional library, but he/she better have a background in library science tuned to dig out and correlate information from that big digital library in the sky called the Web.

Aspects of anthropology such as ethnology all have a place in shaping Ruvin’s foundation for a career in PR.

In other words, tomorrow’s PR practitioner must straddle business and science as well as the arts.

Yes, Ruvin should evolve and polish the soft skills too.

  • The art of persuasion.
  • The ability to probe a resource to pull out meaningful content.
  • Knowing how verbal cues and body language can communicate strength of conviction.
  • Etc.

But with society redefining relationships and what influences those relationships, and the PR profession evolving toward communications that go direct as well as through third parties, the social gadfly + writing formula by itself won’t automatically translate into success down the road.

“Self-Portrait Screenprint” (2007) by Chuck Close

One of my favorite modern artists is Chuck Close who takes portraits to a different level. His painting and photography talent serve as only the starting point for his pieces.

Close has immersed himself in the printing process ranging from carving linoleum blocks to applying acid to his etching plates. Geometry – the use of a grid to break the face down into incremental units – and even topology also come to play in his art.

This collision of creativity and science produces stunning results not possible with only the “arts.”

That’s how I see the future of public relations.

Only by drawing from science, business and the arts will PR continue to make extraordinary contributions to organizations.

**** [You can subscribe to Lou’s blog by clicking here] ****

This is the first of a two-part guest blog series. Dan Green, Principal of VPofMarketing.com, Marcom Match, and the recruiter to the high tech marketing stars, writes part two. Part two posts next Monday.

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