Needs seem to be going in a different direction than pressures in the public relations world. According to William M. Murray, president and chief operating officer of the Public Relations Society of America, employers surveyed recently by PRSA said the most important PR skills are listening, second only to writing. Yet our attention is being diverted by everything from cell phones to computers.
True, technology can also enhance the ability to focus. The trouble is that listening – gaining insights first-hand – involves slowing down and encountering and learning from clients and others. Yet the "noise" band in the communication cycle is becoming ever more distracting.
"There are more tools today for communicating," Murray notes, "– and for listening. The sheer volume of these tools and messages means that organizations can be completely overwhelmed by noise. PR professionals, who are on the front lines with constituents, can add value by listening, by connecting what they've heard to their organizations."
If the phone stops ringing, and the computer stops beckoning, that is. Maybe we just have to turn them off for strategic spells. Of course, a growing focus for listening is social media, and it's computer-based!
"The deluge of messages pouring in from all channels means that the need for strategic PR executives is greater than ever," Murray advises. "We need executives who can not only listen, but also use their judgment to act upon what they’ve heard. This is where technical prowess comes in. Employers ranked 'social media engagement' as the most important area of proficiency, followed by 'crisis communications' and 'reputation management.'
"Yet even as employers highly value listening, it has become harder than ever for people to really listen. We’re all pressed for time. As I’m drafting this column, my BlackBerry is buzzing away on my desk, the preview pane from my e-mail is glowing as new messages appear and my Outlook calendar is sending me messages about my next meeting."
Even so, good PR is foremost about meeting relational needs in a strategic manner. For more insight from PRSA, Murray suggests, check out its redesigned Website, eGroups, and blogs.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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