Published On: Thu, Jan 21st, 2010

Digital Skills: Views from the PR industry

Recently, PR Week (Wednesday 13 January 2010) ran an article lamenting the level of digital skills within the PR industry. Using stats provided by recruitment agency Major Players, Matt Cartmell highlighted the gap between PR roles that require digital skills and the relatively small number of candidates who mention these attributes on their CV.

Whilst the article contained some interesting snippets of information, it left me with more questions than answers, namely:

1. Who should be teaching digital skills?
2. What digital skills do employers want?
3. How can people demonstrate digital skills?

I enlisted the help of industry colleagues Marshall Manson, Director of Digital Strategy at Edelman and Stephen Waddington, Managing Director at Speed Communications to share their thoughts on these questions.

Marshall said:
“1. In my experience, academics are good at teaching principles and lousy at teaching practicalities. So most of the training is going to have to be done by employers in a professional setting. Mostly though, PRs need to take the time to build experience. That’s what I’m always looking for nowadays.

2. Experience. Real depth. Understanding of how the platforms really work. And increasingly (especially at senior levels), real insight into how to build strategies and work with the platforms to undertake successful campaigns built on conversation. Also critical: Ability to listen to the conversation and discern insights.

3.Talk the talk. And back it with real examples.”

Stephen said:
1. The digital PR industry is too immature for formal teaching courses to have been developed. The rules have yet to be written. But there are plenty of good books and lots of materials online. And the tools are free are readily available for anyone to experiment.

2. If you’re new to PR you need to build your own social networks on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And you need to develop content on a blog platform, Flickr and YouTube. Likewise if you’re in PR and want to stay in PR you equally need to learn how to use digital techniques to create and seed content.

3. It’s the old adage. Show me what you’ve done don’t tell me what you could do. Build out your own social networks and use a blog platform, Flickr or YouTube. I am constantly astonished at the number of PR and journalism students that aren’t sufficiently motivated to experiment with these new forms of media. I would always choose someone that had made the effort versus someone that had not.”

I’d like to put on record my thanks to both Marshall and Stephen for sparing the time to give their views on this issue. I’m sure any graduate looking to break into the PR industry in 2010 will find this a valuable post. On a personal note: I look forward to exploring this topic more closely in an article for Behind the Spin magazine.

About the Author

- Marketing Manager with a passion for inbound at HubSpot, Founder of Growth Hack Talks, Blogger at and Chief Quaffer at .

Displaying 10 Comments
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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ben Cotton, Ben Cotton. Ben Cotton said: Digital skills: views from the PR industry: […]

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by bencotton: Digital skills: views from the PR industry:

  3. Good stuff: Marshall’s right about the limitations of academics (in my defence, I was a skills trainer before I became a lecturer, and I’m now reverting to type).

    eportfolios presumably can come into your answer to the third point (demonstrating digital skills).

    In this busy social-networking-twittering age, I’ve noticed fewer PR student blogs. So the good ones continue to stand out (for me). As you know, euprera is keen to recognised PR student bloggers.

  4. Social media skills can’t be taught in a day, or in a class. The tools are always changing, and we all have to respond — or in some cases, we have to change the tools.

    My point is that professionals, educators and students are all responsible for teaching, and learning, social media skills. Every day.

  5. Supriya says:

    Excellent article. As a student of PR, I’m new to the industry. However, like almost every other student my age, I’m addicted to the magical world of social media, where I can play poker, listen to the latest Timabaland remix, tweet for the latest news, poke my friends, rave and rant about teenage angst on my blog and meet my folks many miles away every day on skype. The social media has made my laptop my best friend.

    I am an avid user of the social media. But as an aspiring PR practitioner, I need to know HOW to use it to make effective communication strategies. Likewise, I think PR students today have the social media skills, but they need to be taught the basic principles of PR ON THE LINES of social media techniques.

  6. […] Major Players (See Ben Cotton’s interview with Edelman’s Marshall Manson on the topic here), many PROs are not embracing these new practices and the changing role of the PRO at the rate that […]

  7. Paul Simpson says:

    I could not put it better than Karen. We all have a responsibility for teaching and learning. I went into academia to help prepare the next generation of PRs, but also because I wanted to have some space to reflect, research, and if appropriate, challenge the way things are done.

    I haven’t stopped being a practitioner and recognise much of what Marshall and Stephen recommend in my teaching, and that of other lecturers. Having said that, I agree with Richard, and think there is much more scope to develop PR education where the balance is in favour of being led in the professional setting, rather than the institutional context.

    One final thought. My own experience tells me that the digital skills gap within existing PR practice seems to be such that it further underlines how useful such a profession-led, higher education offer might be, providing opportunities for existing practitioners to dip in, and share their experiences of PR with students while they brush-up on social media skills they may have fallen behind on.

  8. Ben Cotton says:

    You can view the transcript in full which includes comments from Andy Barr, Owner of 10 Yetis and Simon Wakeman, Head of Communications & Marketing at Medway Council on Scribd:

    Blog Transcript (2010): ‘Digital skills: views from the PR industry’

  9. Chris White says:

    I have to disagree with Marshall to an extent. Yes, a classroom environment is hugely different from ‘real world’ experience, as I can can attest to having just finished a placement (I’m currently studying for a PR MA at DMU). However, to really understand something you have to know its history, so studying PR’s growth from Lee and Bernays up to Clifford and many other areas helped me to hit the ground running.

  10. […] Russell, associate professor of public relations at the University of Georgia replied on my blog that attaining social media skills is an ongoing process: ‘Social media skills […]

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