TOP Talk

The Six Core PR Skills That Provide Communications “Trunk Strength”

Posted August 23, 2017 By Matt McCarthy

Topics: Thought Leadership


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What do a public relations specialist and an agricultural grader have in common? Not much at all, according to an article recently published in the New York Times. The article describes which profession is the “opposite of your job” based on data from the U.S. Labor Department’s O*NET database, which records and tracks the skills and education needed for each job type.

At first glance, the skills required to be a successful PR professional seem obvious: time management, speech clarity, social perceptiveness, the ability to make good decisions, originality, and lots of ideas, to name a few. As we compared and contrasted these skills to those required by agricultural graders—manual dexterity, foreign language skills, production and processing abilities, and good trunk strength—we couldn’t help but consider, what it is about these specific skills that are so integral to our profession?

While we might not need “trunk strength” in the literal sense, “core PR strengths” are absolutely integral to what we do. Let’s take a closer look at the six characteristics that give us the strength we need to do our jobs, and why mastering them is imperative to PR success.

Time management and coordination: Those of us in agencies typically provide communication support to more than one client at any given time. But our goal is always to make each client feel as if they are our only client. Excellent time management skills are vital to juggling multiple daily priorities and ensuring you are providing the correct level of service to each client while also delivering the quality counsel and creative thinking each deserves.

Speech clarity: Businesses turn to their agency partners to effectively communicate their brand to the media and general public. The media, in particular, is a tough critic that will analyze and challenge you on the validity of your client’s claims and why their latest announcement is newsworthy. So, prior to any media outreach effort, you must be crystal clear on what the campaign’s goals are and what your client is trying to communicate.  

Social perceptiveness: Those of us in PR are communicators, right? So the ability to quickly pick up on nuanced verbal or physical cues is critical. Social perceptiveness skills are used in nearly every aspect of a PR person’s job on a daily basis—whether it’s through counseling around whether certain messages will be well received by the right audience, knowing how to confidently guide a client through a crisis and the associated sensitivities, or working effectively as a team.

The ability to make good judgment/decision calls: Like a physician’s Hippocratic oath, PR practitioners must also be focused on “First, do no harm.” All our clients have great products or services, but the smart PR counselor guides a client about when or when not to associate itself with world or industry trends and pushes back when needed to ensure a client is always staying authentic to their brand promise.

Originality and fluency of ideas: This is the secret sauce of why clients hire us. Agencies are paid to think outside the box and creatively develop ideas that elevate our clients’ products and services beyond the norm and help them gain real market differentiation. Good PR people get out of bed with one mission each morning: to creatively tell the story of how a client’s products and services impact the way people do business or improve their everyday lives.

Persuasion and negotiation: These are key skills to have when working with a journalist. Reporters hear literally hundreds of pitches every day. While a press release is an effective tool to communicate what a client’s news is, it is the email pitch and the follow-up call to the journalist that is often the difference in persuading them to cover your client’s announcement. Do your homework. If you can show the reporter you are aware of who they are and the types of stories they cover and can relate why your client’s news aligns with their audience you at the very least have their attention and have risen above the rest of the chatter. After you have established that rapport, it may only take a bit more negotiation to secure that coveted interview for your client.


Through our own PR trunk strength, we’re able to create communications programs that help our clients gain business advantages. That’s something we’re proud to flex every day.

Matt McCarthy

About Matt McCarthy

What Motivates Me: Finding and telling a good story. Each client has one, you just need to work with them to find it.