PR needs Jacks and Jills of all trades

One of the wonders of the English language is that it’s always evolving. For example, according to Wikipedia (disclaimer: it is Wikipedia so the following information may have no basis in fact and could actually have been made up by a seventeen year old sitting in his bedroom, but because it serves my purpose I’m going with it) the figure of speech “Jack of all trades, master of none” actually started out as “Jack (or Jill) of all trades” and was meant in a positive way about someone who was a master of integration.

I believe being a ‘Jill of all trades’ in PR is something to be embraced and encouraged.

One of the challenges and great characteristics of Public Relations is change. While many of the core tenets of good Public Relations practice remain, the actual day-to-day work of a PR professional today is a sea change from when I started working in PR just over twenty years ago. We’ve new tools, new challenges, new demands, new opportunities.

A PR professional today must have the ability to build compelling, long term strategies, understand their (and client’s or employer’s) business and the broader business environment, be conversant in new tools and approaches, be pragmatic about choosing the right tools for the right job, and be creative.

Having a broad set of experiences is a benefit not a disadvantage. Great PR people can integrate and use traditional and social tools, they are comfortable analyzing data, good writers, great connectors, have the ability to scenario plan, to think quickly and clearly. The list goes on and on. But ultimately you need a broad set of knowledge, skills and experiences to succeed in the profession today.

There are of course people who operate as ‘specialists’, but the vast majority of successful practitioners have developed a broad set of skills and continue to drive themselves to broaden their knowledge whether its new tools, new ways of engaging audiences, new ways to measure impact or the lack thereof.

For today’s PR professional, being a Jill or Jack of all trades, and master of none is often both an advantage and a compliment.

Do PR agencies need to adapt or die?

Darika Ahrens at Forrester has blogged that that changing nature of ‘interactive marketing’ has the potential to make PR agencies largely irrelevant:

Why is PR at risk of losing their seat at the interactive table?

  • Traditional media decreasing in relevancy
  • Frontline ‘public relations’ online moving in-house
  • PR agencies tend to lack specialised service
  • Interactive marketing spend is dominated by Search and Paid advertising

She believes that the answer to the ‘problem’ facing PR agencies, among other things, is to build their search engine capabilities.

I haven’t seen the reaction to this yet though I’m sure there’ll be much breathless discussion of the topic across Twitter.

I have two core thoughts on the matter.

Firstly, ‘traditional PR’ is not dying as quickly as (it’s ever) been forecasted.  The reality is that traditional media still drives the majority of news cycles and much of the emerging online news is driven by key, identifiable influencers.  As a result the core PR business will survive for the time being.

Secondly, do PR agencies need to review the services they are offering and the skills of their people? Well that question isn’t reserved just for PR agencies.  Every PR and marketing professional needs to review their skills and capabilities in view of the new ways people are finding, sharing and creating information online. PR agencies are no different, they need to match the need for traditional services with services that address changing models of influence.  That’s their business.

The model for online marketing is evolving and changing in step with consumer consumption habits.  The idea that ‘interactive agencies’ will simply replace PR firms is at best a long shot and at worst a fallacy.

We live in interesting times.  One of the most enjoyable elements of a career in Public Relations is the constant need to change and adapt. The past ten years has shown me that change never takes place as quickly as people expect, but that change does happen. It’s not just PR firms that need to be actively looking at how the models of influence are changing, it’s every marketers’ challenge.


Today’s a busy day for the PR agency love meme. Haydn Shaughnessy over at Forbes has an interesting post on what PR companies are doing wrong.