The world of Public Relations has changed drastically in recent years, and not all professionals in the discipline have kept up. As the rules of corporate communications have evolved around shifting consumer expectations and new technology, businesses must be able to find leaders who understand the modern communications landscape; especially if their brand relies on favorable public perception.
A top PR executive today looks very different from one who was leading the pack even just three or four years ago. While some traits and skills have remained must-haves with only minor adaptation, others are entirely new and a few have faded into obsolescence. When it’s time to select a new leader for your communications strategy, look for these critical traits in your next public relations executive search.
Outstanding Leadership and Management Skills
When recruiting PR executives, many organizations mistakenly hone in on subject matter expertise first. Though communications mastery is essential for any successful PR exec, their primary responsibility is to first and foremost be a leader. This has only become more true over time as our digital environment demands faster corporate responses that simply can’t all be micromanaged by one person.
It will be leadership ability first, followed by communications expertise second, that allows your head of public relations to successfully establish the best company-wide policies and procedures needed for effective PR. And it’s that combination of skills that will enable them to hire and maintain a top-performing team of PR experts. From the top down, your marketing communications staffing must be filled with professionals you can trust to represent your brand at all times.
Living and Breathing Social
Some organizations, like large consumer brands, will have massive potential audiences to engage on social media. Others, like specialized B2B companies, probably won’t have quite as much potential following. But whether you’re a McDonalds with millions of connections or an Oracle with thousands, social networks are a critical tool for modern communications.
Social networks are the great amplifier for any kind of earned media; more and more people are getting their news from sites like Facebook and Twitter. And they’re often the fastest way to address public concerns, put out fires, and get ahead of unfavorable news.
PR professionals that don’t respect the great opportunity (and potential destructive power) of social media are holding their companies back. In your public relations executive search, look for leaders that not only know how to harness the power of social, but have a history of successful collaboration with social media management staffing to make the most of its potential.
Obsession with Crisis Preparation
Today’s digital environment has drastically accelerated the speed at which a corporate communications emergency needs to be responded to. Unfavorable news can go viral and spread like wildfire in a matter of hours–even if it’s not true. Large corporations can’t afford to take their time when the web demands instant answers. The longer you wait to respond, the more out of control a narrative can get. But of course, a poorly-assembled, rushed response can do just as much damage as a delayed one.
Your next PR executive recruitment should focus on professionals who are proactive to crisis situations rather than reactive. They must be able to anticipate potential scenarios and build a crisis management infrastructure that’s already in place when things go awry. That means establishing protocols and best practices ahead of time, preemptively designing public response templates, and delegating responsibilities in the event of a communications emergency. Excellent PR chiefs will also engineer a steady stream of positive press that’s present at all times to provide balance to the occasional negative crisis.
Comfortable with Influencers
Media relations remains a core objective for any corporate PR operations. A successful communications executive must be able to establish and maintain connections with key media gatekeepers; reporters, editors, and publishers for various newspapers, industry periodicals, websites and other channels.
But now PR executives must also consider the power and potential of “influencers.” These are popular web personalities, entertainers, and thought leaders that have built large niche followings for their blogs, social media posts, digital content and more. They’re able to build audiences of specific demographics and are well-liked and trusted within their following. A positive or negative mention of your brand by a key influencer can have even more impact than coverage in a major news outlet or industry publication.
Working with influencers is much different from traditional media relationships; in many ways it’s more similar to celebrity endorsement and similar tactics. For instance, influencers can sometimes be paid for their attention, but interacting with them can be a delicate and difficult process since they’re individuals rather than part of a larger organization.
Companies in almost any industry can benefit heavily from an effective influencer strategy, and their PR executive should be at the front and center of it. Look for a well-networked communications director that is equally adept at identifying and working with both traditional media gatekeepers and emerging influencers.
An Internal Focus
The best PR executives understand that internal communications can be just as important as external. Your employees have the potential to be your best brand ambassadors; but that can only happen if they’re happy and on board with your brand messaging.
In an era of employee empowerment, an unhappy staff member can become a PR nightmare online. Poor job performance, complaints about work on social media, and negative comments on employer review sites all reflect back on your brand.
During your PR executive search, look for internal communications masters that know how to keep up employee morale and motivate your team to go to bat for your company online and elsewhere.