The Essential Toolbox for Communications Professionals

All things PR, Personal Writing

Since it is my last semester of my undergraduate degree, I’ve received a lot of questions about what I want to do job-wise after I’m done. I know I want a paying job for starters, but if unpaid internships are the road to a salary position then so be it. I plan on working in smaller agencies and corporate firms, but I’ve semi-seriously considered opening my own “boutique” public relations agency as a long-term goal.

I’m not sure if I would be happier working at a company or being my own boss, but I do know that I want to have a successful career. With graduation around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to attain that success. I know I will need a lot of experience, the type that can’t be learned from a book: real world experience.

This is exactly what Mendi Paschal, Director of Global PR at Siemens PLM Software, explained to my Integrated Strategic Communications class this past Tuesday.

“There is a learning curve for everyone,” Ms. Paschal said.

She stressed to my class that the key is that you step out willing to learn, sense others and anticipate their actions. However, if you don’t fit the culture or aren’t interested or invested, chances are that it won’t end well. Aside from working your butt off and having passion about what you do, Ms. Paschal emphasized the need to have intuition. According to her, communications pros must be like herd dogs in having that natural instinct.

In her speech to my class, she also outlined the essential, yet mostly figurative, tools we all need in our communications toolbox as aspiring public relations professionals. In summary, we need to be cognitive, instinctual communicators who answer the client’s questions before they’re even asked, and we need to constantly measure our processes and ensure that they align with the organization’s goals. If you can’t prove how your work furthers the client’s goals, they won’t see it either. You can check out Ms. Paschal’s complete communications toolbox at the end of this article.

Ms. Paschal isn’t the only one talking about alignment with goals. David Gallagher, CEO for Ketchum in Europe, discussed the frustrations of today’s communications departments and obstacles to the professionalization of public relation on the Ketchum blog. In his article, Mr. Gallagher frames his discussion around the results of a recent survey conducted by the European Communications Monitor (EMC) of more than 2,000 communications professionals in 42 countries.

According to the study, one of the greatest perceived obstacles facing PR professionals is how to align their communication processes with the business’ goals and objectives. Also difficult is proving the impact of those processes on the organizational goals.

I have heard plenty of speeches from industry professionals stressing this necessity for alignment, rightly so. You can use all the different communication tactics in the world, but if they aren’t cohesive with the organization’s goals then it will cost you in the end, or limit your success at the very least.

So armed with my toolbox and new job or internship, what next? Stay tuned.

The Communications Toolbox
(According to Mendi Paschal, MBA)

  1. Flathead screwdriver
    A very basic tool: your basic knowledge on PR and communications, such as how to create factsheets, news releases, or your basic writing skills.
  2. Phillips head screwdriver
    This tool represents your knowledge and strategic use of social media.
  3. Hammer
    This embodies things like byliners, and is the hard-hitting facts and information about your organization, client or events.
  4. Wrench
    You use this tool in the way you connect the marketing department’s words with the business objectives so that your message is acceptable without containing puffery.
  5. Screws and nails
    These are the tactics and processes you use to connect and align your PR strategy to your business goals and objectives.
  6. Measuring tape
    For measuring your strategies and tactics, because you, and especially your clients, want to know the effectiveness of your processes.
  7. Duct tape
    This is the silence duct tape, and Ms. Paschal recommends communication professionals to use this keep themselves in line.
    She stresses the importance of knowing what you’re talking about and to know when to stop talking.
  8. Stud finer
    Your awareness of your surroundings embodies this tool. Ms. Paschal advises that professionals be cognitive of who your allies and enemies are.
  9. Level and ruler
    Always ask yourself, “Is this meeting the business goals and objectives?”
    Because if it isn’t, it’ll affect your client and you down the line, either through loss of profit and market share or the loss of your job.
  10. Pencil and paper
    Always write down what you hear, and PAY ATTENTION. Be engaged and present, because you never know when you’re going to have a “brain fart” and forget some facts or quotes.
  11. Goggles and gloves
    These tools are your protection from the mudslinging, because it is prevalent in the professional world, according to Ms. Paschal. You have to know how to remain calm and cool, while still remembering to protect yourself, your work and reputation from the high-competitive and sometimes cutthroat peer that you work with.