Connecting the dots

When you hear hiring managers talk about public relations professionals of the future, you usually hear about the hunt for multi-taskers, change agents, the need for work-life balance and, of course, diversity that mirrors the future that awaits us.

I’m always on the lookout for dot-connectors, skeptics and the person who has just one more question.

In more than 20 years of managing people in a newsroom and the corporate communications world, I’ve found that it’s the dot-connectors who are the greatest assets to an organization. Who do I mean by dot-connectors? The people who bring context to a conversation (how is this going to play in the #MeToo market?); people who have read a piece in the Harvard Business Review or the Economist that informs an action plan; and people who bring a point of view not typically found in today’s corporate communications, like those from a blue-collar background.

There will be to be fierce competition for these key people. The U.S. talent pool has shrunk by 9% over the last three years, according to CEB. Job seekers are now job shoppers due to their experiences with Google, Amazon and Uber.

As we think about diversity in our profession, the idea of what diversity is must expand to keep corporate communications jobs competitive. Agencies that emphasize incentive pay can more easily attract the agile dot-connectors. For corporate roles where the attraction can be greater job security, it’s going to be tougher to attract and retain the right mix of professionals.

Skeptics, who have a healthy suspicion of the status quo, are valuable contributors to the PR team. Now that every communicator has basic social media skills, I predict we’ll see a return to the people skills, the ability to write clearly, and the honed instincts that have always been the bedrock of good communications.

Adding a social media component to any communications campaign is a given. The skeptic asks, What are we doing that everyone else isn’t doing? Are we launching a particular campaign because that’s what the playbook says, or is there a more creative and effective way of reaching our audience? What are people tuning out? What’s a new (or forgotten) approach that might work better?

Finally, you’ve heard it said in many communications classes: There are no stupid questions. I will say that I’ve heard a few, but communications professionals cannot allow themselves to be intimidated by what we don’t know — or by what the client thinks he knows but doesn’t. A confident communicator will ask the question that she knows everyone is thinking but is afraid to ask. As a communications leader, I want the fearless person who will ask the risky question on my team.

People who will lead communications successfully know what they don’t know. They tell their leaders the truth. They make sure they know all the angles of that truth. They do that by connecting dots of seemingly disparate things, being skeptical of the easy and trite, and by understanding the wide range of realities that reflect our nation and our world.

To download a full copy of the 2019 Relevance Report, click here.