Among the more thought provoking presentations at IPRRC 2010 was a study by Dr. Tom Watson and Dr. Chindu Sreedharan from Bournemouth University. Commissioned by the IPR, the study surveyed international senior level communicators on what they felt the knowledge, skills, relationships, and managerial abilities that senior communications professionals will need in five years' time. Among other things, the study raises the issue of communications professionals working in a world without borders, without sufficient cross-cultural skills. The conclusions are a bit frightening, when you realize how few people are being trained adequately for these challenges. It also questions the very structure of public relations education.
The study asked professionals to rank different propositions in terms of importance. The conclusions: the most important skills for future communicators are an understanding business strategy. Analytics and understanding of interdisciplinary skills were next most important. Least important was coaching and mentoring skills. However, it should be noted that throughout the study there was an emphasis on reputation and relationships and cross-discipline skills and engagement with stakeholders and a de-emphasis on publicity and media relationship skills. In fact, one respondent suggested that "senior communicators should drop out of the media world"
Sadly measurement skills only ranked sixth, but I believe that the message here is that the ability to measure isn't important, but rather the ability to look at data, analyze it, and draw conclusions based on the business goals of the organization.
Also interesting was that digital communications skills ranked 7th, but respondents were clear that the the skills needed were not pure technology, but the ability to "interpret changes and trends in technologies ".
So here's the real crux of the problem. Most communications professionals learn their skills in Journalism or Communications Schools. They know all about how to write good press releases, identify reach and frequency, and determine influence and key messages. But the strategic and analytic skills that are being demanded here are seen as something to be taught in business schools. I know that when I taught at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business, PR was relegated to a paragraph and described as "free publicity". Whatever communications skills are taught in business schools have everything to do with marketing and nothing to do with building stakeholder relationships. On the other hand, it is in the business schools that business strategy and analysis are taught. So why the split?
So my take is this. If these are the skills needed by global VP's of communications in 5 years, with very few exceptions neither the business schools nor the journalism schools are currently capable of turning out well-rounded cross-discipline-trained next generation leader that this market will demand. And judging from the truly awful pitches I get on a regular basis from PR newbies, and the continuing focus on advertising value equivalency, media relations is still alive and well. So the real question is, when all those media relations types are relegated to lower level jobs, who will be there bosses?