Are the days of the generalist PR professional over?

Two decades ago, the opening up of the lndian market and the rising entry of MNCs, brought into sharp relief the skill set of one group of professionals which found itself much in demand. The Indian MBA was supposed to be the master of all aspects of business, a super MBA who knows it all.

Today, the Indian PR professionals find themselves in much the same position, as do their counterparts all over the world. They are expected to understand not only media relations, manage the client’s expectations, but also understand strategic PR thinking, measurement, learn how to align themselves with the business goals of an organisation, have great writing and communication skills and be a whiz at social media. The Indian PR professional is expected to be a super PR professional, a super generalist.

How are PR professionals navigating these multifaceted demands? How skill sets are best divided to suit the clients’ needs? What do organisation heads look for in the PR professionals they hire?

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Shalini Singh, Director, Galvanise PR, says that she stresses a lot on ‘great attitude’ , pointing out that she “Respects all the members at Galvanise, especially those who cross the six-month mark. I look for qualities like: openness to learn, constructive thinking, ability to analyze and observation skills.”

The ability to plan and organize is also a key skill set that PR leads want on their team. According to advance data from an all India skills survey for PR professionals, conducted by PRmoment India, 65.50% of male respondents and 53.80 of female respondents felt that the ability to plan and organize is a key skill missing from PR professionals in India.

Ben Smith, Publishing Director of PRmoment, says that “While planning and organisation are important skills for a PR people, communication and writing abilities are also key areas of focus for PR professionals worldwide and all the evidence I see suggests that this is the same in India.”

A detailed look at the skill set for PR professionals in India, brought out by PRmoment India, will be released in September this year.

Models of Skill management

At GolinHarris, a member of the Interpublic Group of Companies, one of the world’s largest communications companies, a g4 model  of holistic engagement has been devised that provides the client with an integrated team divided across four areas of skills. These are Strategists, Creators, Connectors and at the heart of the model, the Catalysts.

Jonathan Hughes, President, International, GolinHarris, believes in the specialist vs. generalist approach saying that, “At GolinHarris we believe that specialists will always be more successful than generalists.  They will be more successful professionally in the quality of work they do and they will be more successful personally in their careers.  That’s why our firm is built around four specialist communities of strategists, creators, connectors and catalysts.  These four communities work together to solve a client's problems.  Working together with and learning from different specialists is hugely inspiring and encourages people to think bigger and do better work.”

Hughes also points out that it’s time to discard the expectation that one PR professional can have all these qualities: be strategic, creative and operationally strong as well. “Think of it this way.  Where would you rather eat?  In a restaurant where the staff do a bit of everything – cook, wash dishes, clean, greet guests and so on - or in a place where you are welcomed by a Maître d’, you have a chef who does nothing but cook great food and where your waiter knows the right wines to go with your meal?  So by the same token where do you think you will have a more stimulating work environment?  In an agency where everyone does a bit of everything or in a firm where groups of specialists work together to come up with really great campaigns?”

Recruiter’s view

Gita Dang, Founder Director, Talent Advisory Services, places strategic thinking on top of the PR skill matrix pointing out that, “ An ability to understand and integrate the clients business with the macro external business environment is critical." Dang also points out that, “With the growth in the role social media plays, it is important to understand its impact in order to leverage it to the client's advantage.”

Matuli Madhusmita Swain, Marketing Communication Manager with the Hyatt Bangalore, says that,” Digital is huge and its demands are not as print. Your information has to be tailor made to suit the media format”.

Other recruiting firms that PRmoment India spoke to told us that communication, writing skills, strategic thinking and social media marketing skill are what potential employers seek while hiring. They also pointed out that there is actually an overall rise in demand for PR professionals, especially by listed companies and for tech PR.

Recruiting firms also believe that contrary to popular belief the shortage of mid management PR talent is limited, due to the crossover of professionals from marketing and the proliferation of PR training courses. While many may disagree with this statement, recruiters say they don’t think the shortage is that severe of mid-level talent.

Recruiters also point out that companies prefer to hire in-house PR professionals from a set of existing corporate communication employees as the latter tend to understand strategic thinking and multiple stakeholder management much better.

Recruiters also report that women are also preferred by companies as they are perceived to have better communication skills than men.

There you have it. While there is a strong business case for an integrated team of specialists rather than many generalists, the Indian market seems to prefer to employ people who have several skill sets that include strategic thinking, social media marketing abilities and writing skills.