Senior PR practitioners lack digital and social media management skills

State of PR Profession 2015The CIPR State of the Profession 2015 report makes grim reading as it highlights that despite 96% claiming that ‘being considered a professional is important’ they don’t actually make much of an effort to actually be professional.

More than half (52%) don’t have a professional qualification and most aren’t even bothering to evidence that they are improving their skills and knowledge through continuous professional development. Just 5% believe CPD is the best demonstration of professionalism, although I’d caveat this by saying that I don’t think it is the ‘best’, but it is one of the essential elements.

The report also highlights the continuing lack of digital and social skills, which I should be celebrating as it evidences the continuing need for my consultancy and training business. But actually, I find it profoundly depressing as if not addressed it threatens the very future of the PR profession. The significant part of this finding is that it is experienced PR practitioners who are the worst. New entrants to PR, with less than five years experience, rate social and digital media management amongst their strongest competencies.

Just 12% of practitioners with more than 21 years’ experience felt confident in their social and digital media management skills. Despite, or perhaps because of, their own lack of expertise 22% of heads of communications see the changing digital and social media landscape as the biggest future challenge.

This is a huge problem and reflects what I typically see. The problem is that as social and digital becomes more important senior practitioners lack the expertise or experience to actually do their jobs and integrate it properly into public relations strategy. As a result they delegate it to the digitally and socially confident junior members of their team, who do get it, but unfortunately don’t have the broader PR experience to be able to do so most effectively. I’ve long argued that is much easier to teach social and digital to a PR professional, than it is to teach PR to a social media expert.

The report also indicates that the majority of practitioners still see media relations as an important part of their job, which is as it should be. Mainstream media will always be a vitally important part of PR strategy, but has never been all of it. That remains true today, but now more people accept the shift in emphasis. When I work with senior PR practitioners one of the fastest and most effective ways to get them to embrace digital and social media is to start with getting them to modernise their media relations. I help them understand how they can become even better and more effective at the part of their job they are already confident at and enjoy. They can learn to use social media for media relations to better understand and interact with journalists. They can learn how media relations can be improved by smart use of SEO (search engine optimisation) and SEM (search engine marketing), as well as by publishing and distributing their own content.

The best part of my job is working with really senior PR professionals – such as heads of PR for global organisations and companies – who see the need for change and aren’t afraid to ask for help. It’s inspirational and invigorating to see how enthusiastically they embrace learning and change.

If you’re a senior PR practitioner, corporate communications or public affairs head who is inspired by the report to improve your digital and social PR skills then get in touch. You don’t need to use social to reach me, you can just give me a call on +44 20 3239 1093.