You could define public relations as being all about perception. Or more accurately, what can be done to influence and improve that perception. So to be effective at PR, there’s a particular set of public relations skills you need.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and many of the skills come with experience, trial and error. But it should be a good starting point if you are new to the mysteries of public relations.
Given the definition at the beginning, it’s not surprising that the first skill is:
You need to have an understanding of how organisations and individuals view things if you are to stand any chance of influencing their perceptions. Put yourself in their place and ask yourself things like “how would I feel if..”, “is this likely to be of interest to me..”, “would I be likely to read/view/believe this…” You can only influence people if you engage with them. And in an age where they are being bombarded daily with stuff, you need to be able to perceive what is likely to attract them to your messages.
Nose for news
Understanding your audience is only one side of the coin. The other is knowing what is likely to interest them. What is news, or newsworthy, about the things you want to tell them? What will make your story stand out from all the others? You need to understand your subject, its good and bad points, its quirks, its characters, and the things that will make it of interest.
Unless you’re in the happy position that everyone wants to know about you, or your organisation, you’re going to have to be creative in how you present your news. Is there an aspect you can focus on that is more interesting than the whole? Can you announce it on a special day to give it relevance? Can you associate it with something else in the news to provide a new angle on the story? Or get someone of interest to announce it? But don’t go overboard on the creativity and risk losing credibility.
You also need to know who to send your news to. Journalists, reporters, sub-editors, bloggers, commentators, reviewers – people who are in direct contact with your audience will all be useful. You need to have their contacts, and ideally you need to know them – virtually or actually. It’s a huge boost if they also know or recognise you. You need to develop a reputation for providing interesting news and for coming up with the goods. They’re busy people, so they’ll love it if you make their life easier by providing stories on a plate.
One of the most overlooked public relations skills is persuasiveness. Knowing the right people isn’t enough. You have to be able to persuade them to run with your story. You need to know your subject and to be able to be able to put forward a compelling case, to be able to address any objections and answer any queries. Also, you need to know when to give up pressing and move on to someone else. No-one likes being nagged, and journalists can afford to avoid those who pester them.
You need to be bold in presenting your story. OK so it’s not likely to be earth-shattering news, but you’ve got to be confident in it. It’s a big deal to you, and that must come across as you sell its merits. We’re not talking about bluster and bravado here, as your audience will see through that, but a quiet confidence that your story is important, worth telling and people will want to hear about it.
You’ll probably have a pecking order for where you want your story to appear – with big media outlets and important commentators at one end and the general press at the other. Unless you’ve got a major scoop on your hands, you’re probably going to struggle to generate a lot of interest from those at the top of your list. It’s no slight on you and your story, they just have bigger issues to cover. But don’t get downhearted; someone will want to use your story. You’ve just got to keep plugging at it.
Precision is one of the most important public relations skills. The facts in your story need to be accurate and capable of being backed up. If there’s an alternative view or contrary set of information or data, you need to be aware of it so that you can explain why your version of the story is the correct one. And while it’s generally acceptable to emphasise positive aspects and downplay less positive ones, don’t be tempted to lie – if you are found out (and there’s a fair chance you will be), it will damage both your reputation and that of the organisation you are representing. Remember, good reputations are difficult to build but very easy to lose. Bad reputations tend to stick.
Your passion for your subject will come across in the way you present it, and a lack of passion will also be self-evident. If you don’t believe in your story, why should your audience? Look at David Attenborough; you might not like the global warnings he gives, but you cannot doubt his passion and sincerity. You don’t need to gush – that’s likely to have the opposite effect – but you do need to be enthusiastic.
And finally, one of the most important public relations skills is that you’ve got to be able to learn from your successes and your failures. Public relations isn’t a precise science and even seasoned practitioners don’t get it right all the time. You cannot control the way people react to you and your news, but you can control the way you respond to them. Learn what works, ask for feedback on successes and failures, hone your public relations skills, and be more perceptive.
Blackstock can help hone your public relations skills
If you’d like to know more about public relations skills and how to develop them, or if you’d prefer professionals to do your PR for you, please contact us. We’d love to be able to discuss your challenges and to advise you on the options most likely to be successful.