General knowledge – the most essential skill for PR

Jane Smith at pr.(in a jar) has an interesting post on the good general knowledge skills, or lack of, in the public relations industry. She worries that it might ‘sound fogey-ish’ to complain that ‘today’s new graduates don’t read much by way of books, for example.’

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man I’m with Jane on this one. There is a distinct lack of general knowledge amongst younger people. I’m not expecting Master Mind levels of general knowledge (I’d lose) but I do expect anyone who works in PR to know things like:

  • The names of most government departments and the cabinet minister in charge
  • The main characters and storylines from at least some of Shakespeare’s plays
  • The names of the ‘top’ six or seven PMs/presidents from around the world
  • Key events from UK and world history
  • The main characters and storylines from some of the classic British novels (from having read them, not watched the film or TV adaptation)
  • Know who some of the world’s great thinkers are and their works from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology etc
  • The locations and little bit about most UK cities
  • The titles and/or authors of some current ‘hot’ books that are helping to shape society and business – and hopefully to have read some of them, for fun/interest, and not because you’ve tasked with it
  • The capitals of most European countries and major countries around the world
  • The names of some of the world’s ‘great’ newspapers in major countries

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I’m constantly disappointed by how little some people know. The reason these are important is that for some of these things they are simply important, for others they are more an indication that you are hungry for knowledge about society, politics, economics, government, business, culture etc.

To be really successful in public relations you need to be hungry for knowledge and constantly thirsting to know more. You need to embrace every new client’s industry sector with enthusiasm and immerse yourself in the trends, terminology and practices.

A good grounding in general knowledge is invaluable in business, public relations and your life in general.

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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://www.smithandsmithpr.typepad.com Jane Smith

    I'm glad it's not just me who's worried about this!

  • http://www.thewayoftheweb.net Dan Thornton

    Sadly, I no longer count as a new graduate, as I near my 31st birthday!

    I can understand why it's important to have a general awareness of what is going on in the world to put PR etc into context, but I'd put more stock into a new graduate employee understanding the concept of social networks or blogging over a knowledge of the classics (And I've read most of them in my university days!)

    I always gravitate to people who are keen to learn as much as they can about everything – an essential trait for a journalist in my opinion, and one which I seem to have maintained despite a switch to marketing. But I'm not sure general knowledge is preferable – particularly in an age when online research means it's more important to know how to use tools, rather than what the end result actually is.