Every January, trade publications are filled with articles about top "trends to watch" in public relations. By February, however, (like New Year's resolutions) many fall by the wayside. By definition, trends are flighty; forgettable. They are currently in fashion, and then go out (and possibly come back—hello, Scrunchies!). Trends are a general direction that something is changing, but isn't certain or absolute. This said, I don't favor articles that detail all the latest "trends" in a profession. The start of any new year should be about getting back to basics; re-defining and developing the skills you know and love. Say it loud, and say it proud: Fine-tuning those timeless public relations skills can have a profound impact on your organization's success. Here are my top three skills for evergreen career success:
Public relations is a writing-centric profession. It will forever be a writing-centric profession. As a PR professional, you're the go-to expert on the written word. You're not only an expert in how to craft messaging, but also a master at disseminating it to key publics to change both hearts and minds. Writing should be concise and simple to ensure maximum effectiveness (hint: Spend words like money; the fewer you need to make your point, the more confident and clear your message will be). Additionally, writing should be persuasive, each word carefully selected with the intention of getting someone to act. The best news about writing well? It takes practice and commitment. Every day is an opportunity to improve.
It may seem obvious that research is an important component to any communications plan. In fact, most of the top leaders in the industry would agree. Yet, jumping to tactical solutions without any supporting evidence continues to run rampant. "Data-driven decision-making" is a buzz term: It doesn't mean much unless it actually happens. Making data-driven decisions means you are looking at applicable research (or, curating it) prior to developing client solutions. It also means analyzing the data to draw insights as to customer needs and wants. This way, proposed solutions have credibility. These solutions can be trusted more than a "fun" idea overheard in the break room. Data should be driving both the client conversations and meaningful solutions. One more note about data: One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was that data, by itself, isn't valuable. It's the stories that come from the data that yields both relationships and revenue.
Spoiler: I'm never popular in business meetings. I'm the person who will incessantly ask "why?" and "what's the value?" This can be annoying to big-picture thinkers or creatives. I—the person doing it— even find it annoying! But, in my humble opinion, all public relations professionals should take on the "inquisitor" role within a company. That voice of reason is usually the most detail-oriented person in the room, and strategic thinking and being attentive to details are at the center of our profession. And, having these qualities makes you great at your job; you're providing an indispensable service to all. Remember, the first response to any question is never the "right" answer. You need to keep asking "why" until you get to the root cause of the issue or concern. Until you can't ask why anymore. Then, and only then, can you begin to solve the problem. The real problem. This process may be a bit tedious at first, but it saves time, energy, and aggravation in the long run.
Kerry O'Grady is the Faculty Director and Associate Professor of Practice for the Master's in Public Relations & Corporate Communications. An award-winning integrated communicator, she is a sought-after media contributor on pop culture, social media, and wellness. She's currently a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University, studying for her Ed.D. in leadership and learning in organizations.