The Principals’ Office: Non-writing Skills and Traits Essential for Public Relations


Principals' Office ImageRick Teitloff, Intern, Shank Public Relations Counselors

After missing a couple of weeks due to the fourth of July, I’m back in the principals’ office with David and Marilyn Shank – the principals of Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc.

In this edition we discuss non-writing skills and traits essential to being successful in public relations. We all know that writing is imperative in public relations, but it is only one piece of the puzzle in becoming a bona fide public relations professional.

Rick (R): What’s the most essential skill for public relations?

David (D): “Thinking — recognizing and developing strategy that leads to why you’re writing something. Once you know your strategy and message, writing becomes the most important. The pecking order goes strategy, message, writing.”

R: Are there skills or traits that you must have that can’t be taught?

Marilyn (M): “No. Some skills such as problem solving, people skills and cultural awareness are more difficult to teach, but not impossible.”

D: “There are two things public relations professionals need that can’t be taught: an innate curiosity and assertiveness. You can teach somebody how to question things, but not true curiosity. An example: I was eating at a revolving hotel-restaurant. I’m a naturally curious person and wondered how the restaurant was able to revolve. I called the public relations manager of the hotel the next day and she told me it revolved on ball bearings. The company that supplied the ball bearings for the restaurant happened to be a client. I wrote a nice application piece that was used by vertical trade magazines. You can’t teach that kind of curiosity and assertiveness.”

R: What non-writing skills and traits do public relations professionals have to have to make it?

M: “Problem solving, strategic thinking, people skills, knowledge of media, cultural awareness, knowledge of government and the ability to work with different types of clients.”

D: “Flexibility. In public relations you’re going to encounter things you’d never imagine – don’t be afraid of new and challenging experiences. You have to be curious and assertive – ask why something does or doesn’t work. And you have to be mature – you’re not always going to get your way, and the way you handle those situations will dictate how far you go in public relations. Maturity is the key to handling those situations the right way.”

R: Are there any skills or traits that a public relations professional might need that aren’t necessarily obvious?

M: “Honesty with yourself and with your employer. In public relations, you have to work with a variety of clients. If you’re interviewing at an agency and they tell you you’ll be doing work for a certain type of company that you have a problem with, you’d better tell them. Nobody benefits when you get hired there and you refuse to work with the clients you’re assigned to.”

D: “You have to be able to do basic business mathematics. Return on investment, metrics, budgeting and analytics are important in today’s public relations. ‘I’m not a numbers person’ just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

R: Choose one skill or trait that you find the most important in an employee. Go!

D: “I’m going to give you two (apparently the rules don’t apply to David): business mathematics and a visual thinker – having the ability to project the strategy and tactics before putting pen to paper. Making a concept come alive graphically.”

M: “Media literacy. It’s important to understand all facets of the media, from traditional media to our social media.”

That does it for this week’s installment. What non-writing skills or traits do you think are necessary for public relations? What are your personal experiences? Let us know what you think!

The topic for our next installment will be the differences between goals, strategies and tactics in public relations! If you have any questions for David and Marilyn you can leave them in the comments below, tweet at us (@shank_pr #TPO) or stop by our Facebook page. If you found this helpful, make sure to share it with your friends and spread the knowledge!

Rick Teitloff is our summer 2013 intern. Rick is a senior at Ball State University and will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public relations in December.