The PR professional today has to be a many-armed ninja holding on to everything from traditional media skills to digital savvy and crisis management and the ability to understand the bottom line. The question is where is the average PR professional expected to acquire all this knowledge. Is the problem a lack of time, interest or training opportunities?
For young PR professional, Venesa Bar, the challenge is multifold. She says, “ With so many PR skills needed one requires proper guidance on the skills that should be acquired. It also depends on the interest of an individual and if she is willing to devote time from the already long working hours. Be it acquiring social media skills, marketing skills or content writing skills appropriate guidance, willingness to learn and devoting adequate time is important which is lacking and that stops PR professionals from acquiring new job skills.”
No time to learn
Nitin Mantri, president PRCAI and Avian Media founder -CEO, is very familiar with this problem. He says its quite common to hear the cry “ I have a crisis! Where have heard that before in our industry! We are in a client servicing industry and that, too, a high-pressure one. The busy schedule prevents PR professionals from doing that something extra. I find so many people eager to attend workshops whenever they get the opportunity to learn something new. But if on that day there is a client crisis the plan goes for a toss! I feel clients should also push their servicing team to attend workshops. There is a lot do in this segment as there are not enough professional courses to enhance PR skills.”
Many large agencies do provide extensive training. At Edelman India their internal learning and development programmes includes the ‘Edelman Learning Institute’ (ELI), an online platform. Says Edelman India managing director, Rakesh Thukral, “We actively look for ways to provide stretch assignments, cross-teaming experiences, mobility and mentoring.”
Thukral does admit that, “Many a times, people think they are too busy to do the training. It’s a question of prioritization. Honestly, if you are not prioritizing training, you are missing on learning. Of course, training modules have to be engaging, fun and refreshing.”
Not having a career plan
One of the big reasons that training is not a priority is not making your career plan in PR. This often stems from PR being a default career option. Amith Prabhu, founding dean, Indian School of Communications & REputation (SCoRe) has just launched a series of training modules for PR professionals. Prabhu feels that the lack of enthusiasm for the enhancing professional skills is rooted in a “not valuing what you do” attitude.
Thukral doesn’t completely agree that young PR professionals are not focused on their career. He says, “The younger lot is clear on what they want to do and which directions to go for, but they lack patience. Managers and workplace should be able to provide employees the ability to be versatile and/or a specialist to manage one or multiple roles. The fresh talent on the other hand, needs to focus more on learning and preparing themselves for the future challenges and not take a short- term view.”
Mantri agrees that, “The problem is that a lot of people are looking at short cuts to success! Unfortunately, there is no short cut to good performance! PR involves a lot of hard work, smart and quick thinking- that can only be possible if you have thorough knowledge of your client's market- and constant up gradation of skills. That’s the reason we have people leaving the industry because they cannot handle the pressure or it is a wrong career option for them.
Where are the right training courses?
Many PR professionals are completely unprepared for the hard grind of work in PR, the study courses they attended in colleges often inadequate for the real world. Though organisations like SCoRe are attempting to bridge this gap, the onus for training mostly falls on the agencies where budget can be a challenge.
Mantri admits that like any sector, budget will definitely be a constraint. He says, “ There will be so much that an organisation can do. To cite our example, within four years of setting up the company, we realized the importance of training in this profession. We have a comprehensive one-year induction programme called SEED for fresh recruits; external training on both functional and soft skills and internal awards ACE to train our talent on writing award-winning campaign entries. But they are not enough. The answer lies in a self-starter approach; learning sessions, in which senior employees of the company share their knowledge and team mentoring sessions.”
PR professionals don’t read enough
That the PR business is facing a shortage of talent is not news. But can this be addressed? The answer may lie in depending your awareness about your industry and client.
Mantri says, “The reason why the industry is facing a talent crunch is the weak knowledge base (what’s happening in the world or basic changing dynamics of communication). This knowledge helps you to flourish in any sector and come up with sound strategies for clients. It also helps you communicate clearly. By communication I mean both verbal and written. Very few people read these days. As a result, they write poorly.”