The rules are changing and the venues by which we communicate with important stakeholders have shifted and morphed. One only needs to read the headlines to see that mainstream media is in financial trouble, along with the rest of the economy.
With corporate bailouts and scandals that outrival those of the past (Bernard Madoff anyone?) it is tempting to take a gloomy outlook of the coming year. However, I think that this is the year that communicators should look to sharpen their skills. Those that do will have an advantage over others.
1. ADAPT AND BE FLEXIBLE
One of the most important skills a communicator can have is the ability to adapt. People will continue to change the ways in which they reach out to companies. For instance, in 2007 most people didn't think of Twitter as a valid customer service channel. But now big companies like Dell, Comcast and Network Solutions (among others) are using it every day to reach out to customers. With social networking thriving, look for public relations to be a customer service channel. Also, don't expect the social networking tool de jour to be the holy grail. Look for where your customers are, be it a forum, blog, social network, virtual world, or yet to be determined place – and follow them there.
2. BE A VORACIOUS LEARNER
I always like to think of myself as a graduate student. Even though I have practiced public relations for 15 years, I still have a lot to learn every day. What drew me to the profession in the first place is that it is different every day and the strategies and tactics I employ today are certainly not the same as they were 15 years ago. To be an effective communicator, one must reinvent themselves every day. Read smart people, learn by building on the history of communication, study the economy and be well rounded. Recruit a mentor that you respect to spend an hour a month chatting with you, and pay it back by mentoring someone else. This year is the year to do more of those things as the landscape shifts yet again. Use the uncertainty to your advantage to grow.
3. LISTEN MORE THAN YOU TALK
This goes with the point above about learning. There are so many tools (paid and free) out there that allow us to listen more closely to people who will make or break our organizations and companies over the next few years. There is really no excuse for not using these tools to do just that. I learned from Barbara Nixon on Twitter that there is even an International Association of Listening – imagine that. The more that you listen, the more you learn what might be the hot button issues for stakeholders, and the faster you will be able to address them.
4. GIVE GENEROUSLY
During a recession it is tempting to pull in from giving and save money. However, giving does not always have to be expensive. In fact, online it is even easier to give by sharing credit, linking to ideas that you like, mentoring someone, or just taking a genuine interest in people. Also, as you may have heard from the talking heads, now is the time to invest in stuff. Why? Because investing now has more value than investing in good times. It is a concept that Doc Searls, one of the Godfathers of the social web, calls The Generous Web, and it applies to public relations. So, invest strategically in people that matter most to your company and you will get a bigger dividend when the economy swings up again. They will remember that you stood by them in the bad times.
5. SHARPEN YOUR FUNDAMENTALS
It is more important than ever to sharpen your fundamental skills as a communicator. Learn how to deliver salient public relations strategy rather than being mired down in delivering the day-to-day tactical things our jobs require (press releases, pitching, newsletters, etc.). If you work in public relations, you should think about getting your accreditation. The bad rap of the public relations industry was not created overnight and will not be cleaned up overnight either, it will take more practitioners that have a strong ethical underpinning and that follow a code of ethics.