Gini Dietrich

Five Skills You Need You Won’t Learn In PR Class

By: Gini Dietrich | February 9, 2012 | 

In our quest to continue experimenting and mix things up a bit, we are going to continue Facebook question of the week (clap, clap, clap), but we are not going to devote a blog post to it.

Instead, it will air every Thursday and you can find it in the sidebar of the blog, on YouTube, on Facebook, on Google+, on Pinterest, and on the Arment Dietrich home page (phew!).

We’re going to test how much fame and fortune that brings to those of you who dare ask us a question. Which can still be asked by leaving it on our Facebook wall.

That said, you can find today’s question from Jason Konopinski by clicking here, if you’re not actually on the blog and don’t see it in the sidebar.

And now…today’s actual blog post.

The Five Skills You Won’t Learn in PR Class

An interesting thing happened the other day. A new business prospect asked us why he hadn’t come across a PR professional before who knew the right questions to ask about his business.

It’s a gross generalization, but as a rule we joke that we went into PR because we hate numbers.

And numbers are just one thing you need to know that you won’t learn in PR class.

  1. The business dashboards. Do you know the difference between a P&L and a balance sheet? Do you know how to read them both? Do you know the difference between revenue and the bottom line? What about the difference between gross and net margins? Do you know how your efforts can affect revenue and margins? If you don’t say yes to every one of these questions, I recommend befriending someone in your accounting department. Learn it. It will benefit you in the long run.
  2. Traditional marketing. The lines between PR and marketing are becoming even more blurred. In a comment on yesterday’s blog post describing the difference between PR and advertising, Ken Mueller lamented that the term “PR” may eventually go away because everything is integrating. Learn how to generate, nurture, and convert leads. Work with your sales team to understand how they use the customer relationship management software. Learn how to automate some of your reporting, as it relates to all the good work you’re doing.
  3. Budgeting and forecasting. As you move up in your career, you’re going to be charged with budgeting and forecasting. Learn how to budget conservatively and aggressively. Learn the difference between accrual and cash statements. Learn how to adjust your forecasting, based on trends, the industry, and even accounts receivables.
  4. Management and leadership. There is a difference between the two and it’s necessary for both to exist in your career. Particularly if you work on the agency side, you’ll find you are managing client accounts by the time you hit account supervisor level. But you might also be leading an internal innovation team or mentoring younger colleagues. Management skills need to be learned so you can lead a team that works together in the best interest of the clients.
  5. Willingness to learn something new. Again in yesterday’s blog post (it brought out all the smarties!), Suzi Carragher commented, “A former colleague was often asked if she was in the medical profession, because she could hold a conversation about open heart surgery with any surgeon on the planet. She advocated FOR the medical profession as a public relations practitioner.” My friend Mimi  Meredith was to join an agency that focuses on automotive PR. She worked at a car dealership, selling cars, for 90 days. Learn the business you’re counseling. Everything about it. Go on sales calls. Work on the floor. Do what you have to do to know everything you can.

There are many, many other skills you need as a PR professional that you won’t learn in the classroom, but I’m out of writing time for the morning.

So, you tell me, what else is there?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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66 responses to “Five Skills You Need You Won’t Learn In PR Class”

  1. Isascribla says:

    @SpinSucks every point u note is palatable. I always suggest to my #PR students to merge study with professional practice 4 peak performance

  2. KenMueller says:

    Some great ideas, and I’m going to pass this on to the PR prof who teaches where I teach. I’m betting she covers at least some of these in her classes. I’ll be curious to see what she says. I especially like point 5 – get in the trenches and learn about your clients and their industry.

    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @KenMueller I’ll be curious to know if she does teach the financials. I could see many arguing that PR students need to take financial classes, rather than learn about it in PR classes. It would excellent, however, to see a PR application of the numbers.

      • KenMueller says:

        @Lisa Gerber She and I had a conversation on FB, and I’m trying to encourage her to come over here and comment. She says they do address most of these on various levels, and they are required to take marketing classes as well.

        • Lisa Gerber says:

          @KenMueller and to clarify my earlier comment. We all should take financial classes. I wish I had paid better attention when I was in college. LOL. but having the tie in to how our PR and marketing efforts affect the bottom line is key.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @KenMueller I’d be curious to know if this is taught, as well. Typically, unless you’re a business major with a PR emphasis, you’re not getting any of this stuff.

  3. Robb_Wexler says:

    @ginidietrich Love the last one especially. I learned a LOT sitting in on PR presentations in the early days of my business.

  4. theshepTSG says:

    @ginidietrich -I’ve seen a real lack in #4 lately, hopefully that will soon change.

  5. #5 is critically important, I think. We need adaptable, nimble professionals with ever-widening skill-sets, not one-trick ponies. 🙂

  6. John_Trader1 says:

    @KenMueller is spot on – submerging yourself in your client’s business is such a must for today’s PR pro. How many of us actually take the initiative to spend time shadowing our clients for a period of time to really learn their business as opposed to an initial hour or two discovery meeting and then get started on the “plan.” Not only does it show respect, but it shows commitment and intelligence that you don’t plan to lift a finger to the keyboard until you know everything there is to know from the inside out. Stuff you certainly can’t figure out through a verbal discussion.

    All growth in life comes from getting outside your comfort zone. Dropping yourself inside the world of your client may at times seem uncomfortable, but will pay mega-dividends to develop PR initiatives that are successful.

    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @John_Trader1@KenMueller and this is EXACTLY why I got into PR for the ski industry. It was my JOB to test the product. 🙂

      But in all seriousness, I was out skiing with an editor from Skiing Magazine one day and she said she loved working with me because, well, I actually love the industry. She once tried to write a story about a helmet but the representing PR agency based in NYC didn’t know Jack about skiing and couldn’t respond to her questions.

      • John_Trader1 says:

        @Lisa Gerber @KenMueller You know, I’m wondering. When bidding out a PR job to different agencies (through RFP or whatever) during the vetting process, should you only seriously consider agencies that respond to the question, “What steps will you take to learn our business to more effectively help our PR?” with a plan that involves spending time with you and observing the business on a day to day basis rather than responding with “we will set up a discovery call or a discovery meeting?” Maybe this could help weed through the agencies a lot faster.

      • ginidietrich says:

        @Lisa Gerber @John_Trader1 @KenMueller Oh she’s not joking. She is serious about why she got into PR for the ski industry. And, really, who can blame her?

  7. Byron Fernandez says:



    For me? It has been learning how to maintain and stick to scheduling, especially editorial calendars. Timelines, benchmarks, milestones, deadlines. One of the challenges noobs to agency ownership and accountability face is balancing the line between fun/play and serious bizness, for the betterment of your clients, peers and colleagues.

    Keeping everyone happy is a constant challenge, but also pretty kickass opportunity to muster mettle and fortitude, so we can stretch our abilities to effectively and efficiently manage/produce both our and others’ Time.

    I get fresh perspective every day, and it reminds me I’m just a kid in a candy store. I just have to choose the ones that won’t make me sick 😉

  8. allenmireles says:

    #5 strikes me as one of the most important pieces of advice you can pass on–to PR students, PR practitioners and anyone else. Really diving into your client’s business is essential so that you can understand it and look at it from their perspective; something many of us have learned through doing and not from our time in school.

    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @allenmireles Hi Allen! 🙂 5 and 1 actually sort of play hand in hand. Not only knowing the industry but understanding the business model.

      • @Lisa Gerber@allenmireles When I worked more closely with boutique ad agencies in a previous career, #5 was something that many of them took very seriously. Learn the product. Pick it up, test it, understand how it fits into a customer’s experience.

        • Byron Fernandez says:

          @jasonkonopinski @Lisa Gerber @allenmireles Precisely. Know what it tastes like, feels like, smells like, looks like. If you drop it on the floor, will it break or bounce?

          Like serving or bartending: how can you recommend anything if you don’t know every item on the menu? What wine to eat with their meal? How drinks pair with food? What the prices are?

          Either you Know your Shit or you don’t …

      • allenmireles says:

        @Lisa Gerber Hi Lisa. You are so right. Point well taken. 🙂

    • ginidietrich says:

      @allenmireles Someday I will show you this skill I have from working with both Bayer and BASF. I can walk into a corn or soybean field and tell you which weeds are growing there…just by looking at them. It’s a neat party trick (OK, not really).

  9. majastevanovich says:

    @RTRViews Thanks for sharing the PR lessons article!

  10. Byron Fernandez says:

    @allenmireles @John_Trader1 @KenMueller

    One of the most powerful thing the PR industry has shown us is to demonstrate you are invested in getting to know those who support you — across relationships. Thank their husband or wife when they offer you hospitality and welcome you into their home and/or office. As businesspeople, our job does not end with building rapport, likeability and trust purely for the agency or client end.

    It must permeate all affected and invested partners: their families and personal communities as well.

    Echo all your sentiments — we have to learn by practice and results, not cheap words or good intentions (which translate to empty or worse, broken promises)

  11. mitchellfriedmn says:

    @ginidietrich agreed! Will e-mail link to my forthcoming blog post that supports your main points.

  12. TevyeNYC2010 says:

    I married someone in our accounting department, so I agree with #1.

  13. mitchellfriedmn says:

    Gini, I agree in general and argue that an even broader understanding of organizations and how they operate is critical for professionals. See my related blog post at

    • ginidietrich says:

      @mitchellfriedmn Totally agree. That’s why #1 and #5, combined, are so important. Without it, you’re operating in a vacuum.

  14. HowieSPM says:

    Who is @jasonkonopinski and why would he be asking you questions?

    Great post Gini. Love the strategy, teaching and how to posts. I think this list scares most people who will say ‘My degree is in Finance’ or I didn’t go to college and just want to run a business. Reminds me of the guys in Auto Shop in High School who didn’t expect to go to ‘college’ to be able to fix todays cars.

  15. Leon says:

    G’Day Gini,

    I’ve run a business for over 30 years. A few things I’ve learned outside classrooms….

    Marketing isn’t everything, but everything is marketing

    Do only those things to which you bring a uniqe perspective. Buy everything else around the corner

    Nothing is so important as the proper execution of the fundamentals

    A manager’s prime responsibility to his or her employes is to put systems in place that make it impossible for them to fail

    The main thing you learn in classrooms is how to pass exams

    and naturally,

    If your job isn’t fun, change your job.

    One more thing: never forget the words of John Wooden, “It’s what you learn after you know it all, that counts.”



    • Lisa Gerber says:

      @Leon Agree wtih all of us this but ESPECIALLY the fun part. We work too many hours of our lives for it not to be fun/ or at least something we enjoy.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @Leon The only thing I don’t agree with is making it impossible for them to fail. I think the biggest lessons are in failures and I make it comfortable for my team to fail. But other than that, totally agree.

  16. All in all, your 5 lessons can be applied to just about any line of business.

    The only addition I can offer is remembering that sometimes less is more. In this era of information overload, it’s easy for consumers to get lost and tune out the message. Yet I still see experts throwing-up TMI all over themselves. Simplicity can be genius.

    Enjoyed this one, thanks Gini!

  17. Suzi_C says:

    I have officially ARRIVED!!!! Getting mentioned in a Gini blog post! Highlight of my day! I have so much yet to learn, and I’ve been doing this for a while!

  18. Michelle Damico says:

    Gini, this is an excellent, helpful post. Proof once again that anybody with even the slightest interest in working in PR or hiring a PR firm should follow you. Thanks once again for your thoughtful approach to blogging and sharing your expertise.

  19. Mark Murphy says:

    Hi Gini, just finding your post here. A Marketing guy myself, always saying, “two things I don’t do, AR and PR…” but those things you note above are so smart for anyone(!). Right on…Cheers!

  20. 3HatsComm says:

    Love this list — and regret I didn’t get here sooner; the “PR and marketing difference” post is still awaits ;-). You know I totally agree – it’s why I where many hats – just wish others in business weren’t so stuck on the old organizational chart paradigms.

    I’ve had way too many ‘head, meet desk’ moments w/ those who refuse to believe that I in fact do understand a little something about budgets, about results, about business. And part of that comes from #5 – If you don’t know what’s on the menu, how can you possibly sell the food or provide any service of value? I work to learn as much as I can about industries and clients I represent. Pesky time/money, it’s WORTH the expense to do that, to let me learn more about your business.

    One change I’d make: “traditional” marketing – and PR. The ‘name’ may change, but I don’t think the practices are going anyway; there’s no school like the old school. In fact, I’d almost argue it the other way as I’ve seen many traditional advertising/promotion heavy marketing initiatives shift to more PR, integrated social media, stakeholder and influencer relations, etc. The lines are being blurred, often more old-style relationship marketing, via newer tools.

    If I’d add only ONE skill to this: adaptability. That’ll require critical thinking and the skill to put all these other skills to good use; the ability to adapt, to changes, ups, downs, crises, real-time pressures and real, long-time project development. FWIW.

  21. jehushamlin says:

    @joeclarkson13 thanks mister PRSSA

  22. YAreYouInPR says:

    RT @PublicityGuru: 5 PR skills you won’t learn in a classroom

  23. […] the skills to be an effective leader or manager, according to a recent article I read online, is something one does not learn in the classroom. And it’s true. I’m […]

  24. […] the skills to be an effective leader or manager, according to a recent article I read online, is something one does not learn in the classroom. And it’s true. But the great […]

  25. ginidietrich says:

    @joeldon I had someone tell me they married a girl in the accounting department. That works too!

  26. […] Our training and professional development needs to go way beyond honing communications skills. Spin Sucks fearless leader, Gini Dietrich, wrote a piece on this a few weeks ago with ‘Five Skills You Need You Won’t Learn in PR Class.’ […]

  27. […] We must improve training and development. Our training and professional development needs to go way beyond honing communications skills. Spin Sucks fearless leader, Gini Dietrich, wrote a piece on this a few weeks ago with ‘Five Skills You Need You Won’t Learn in PR Class.’ […]

  28. leah_semanie says:

    @PublicityGuru great tips. Definitely something to think about…we PR professionals have to reach out of our comfort zone and learn!

  29. Kurtynei5qsr says:


  30. […] get paid to criticize, not write fluff pieces. Respect their job, provide what is asked (using good PR practices), and chances are your organization will receive fair treatment in the news […]

  31. […] Here are five tips to help new grads land their dream job. […]

  32. i7Chris says:

    Hi Gini – I’ve been on both sides of the fence: I was a marketing professor for 10 years, bookended by time in Corporate America and marketing agencies (where I now am at.)
    One of the BIGGEST things I see with entry level employees is the inability to write, the struggle with synthesizing a variety of information from a range of credible sources and applying those insights to a given situation, and understanding that “education” does not stop after graduation (“read, read, read” was one of the best pieces of advice I ever got from one of my very first bosses.)
    In fact, at our firm (, we have a designated intern mentor who takes time each week to “fill in” the professionalism gaps that most college students don’t get while in school in addition to the coaching our marketing coordinators provide interns who are working on their accounts.  
    At the end of the day, hands on experience is vital to students’ successful career entry. 😉

  33. […] get paid to criticize, not write fluff pieces. Respect their job, provide what is asked (using good PR practices), and chances are your organization will receive fair treatment in the news […]

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