Gini Dietrich

Three Skills Every Communicator Must Have

By: Gini Dietrich | October 2, 2014 | 

Skills Every Communicator Must HaveBy Gini Dietrich

Yesterday, Martin Waxman and I were getting ready to record Inside PR and he said, “Did you see Clay Shirky’s post on Medium about the death of journalism?”

I hadn’t, but you know what I did next.

Titled, Last Call: The End of the Printed Newspaper, I was intrigued because it so nicely tied in with the recent New York Times announcement that they are laying off 100 journalists.

(Plus I love Clay Shirky, who refers to himself as, “Bald. Unreliable. Easily distracte…”)

It’s a really interesting piece on what’s going on with newspapers and I highly recommend the read.

It also will create a nice debate because people are pretty passionate about the topic: Some believe newspapers aren’t dying and others believe they are already dead.

He presents a pretty good case for the end of the printed newspaper.

But here’s what stuck with me, from a communications point-of-view.

Skills Every Communicator Must Have

He details three pieces of advice to journalists who haven’t yet been fired, but are likely on their way there.

Here’s the thing about his advice: It works for the communicator, too.

Here’s why.

  1. Get good with numbers. We no longer have to rely on media impressions and advertising equivalencies to prove our worth. We’ve always been an expense—and typically one of the first to get cut in a down economy. But today we have the huge opportunity to become an investment…if we can get good with numbers. I know, I know. You went into PR because you’re not good at math. Get over it. Figure it out. Take some classes. Learn how to use Google analytics. Figure out what kinds of data are available to you and use them to your advantage. Prove your worth and you’ll always climb up the corporate ladder or  have clients pounding on your door.
  2. Learn how to use social media for stories and sources. Of course, from the communicator perspective, learn how to use social media to connect with, and build relationships, the journalists, bloggers, and influencers who can help your organization grow. I would also say learn how to use social media for business development. Another thing the communicator is really bad at: Selling. Use social media to connect with the organizations you think you’d like to work with. Get a list of prospects from your sales team. Start building relationships that way. If you can get a sales person in the door because of your efforts, you will always have a job. Always.
  3. Integration, integration, integration. Shirky talks about it from the perspective of working with other journalists who have specialties different than the others, but I look at it from the perspective of moving beyond text. Andy Crestodina has a great piece on content hubs (which I have stolen and morphed into something I will share with you in a week or so) that is how you should think about your efforts. Writing a blog post on a specific topic? Where else can you use it? A white paper, a speech, a video, a podcast? Have an interview with a major trade publication? How else can you use that content? Perhaps a behind-the-scenes video you took during the interview or a FAQ on the website of the stuff that landed on the cutting room floor. We have to think beyond one tactic and integrate the PESO model.

While it’s journalists who are fearful of their jobs right now, the communicator should consider his or her own skill sets so our industry doesn’t follow suit.

If you figure out how to prove your work drives revenue, you’ll have a seat at the table, and you’ll become an asset instead of a liability.

Now the floor is yours. What do you think of these three points and what else would you add?

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. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Elephantdrum

    lkpetrolino WHAT???

  • BillSmith3

    In terms of numbers, we’re not calculating derivative futures here but being able to interpret numbers given to us by the respective analytics platforms we use and present them in context to the client and c-suite. As for the other two skills, that goes without saying.

  • I can argue for and against Clay Shirkey’s points, but … 

    The biggest thing journalists need, and it isn’t so much a communications thing, is to develop additional skill sets. About two years ago, I let go one-third of the newsroom for the simple reason that they demonstrated a lack of willingness to adopt, learn, and adapt to new technologies and utilize tools that would allow multi-platform reporting.

    And that is something that people in any communications-related discipline needs to hear. Learn new tools. Use them. Adapt and adopt.

  • Something I see missing often (in journalism and in other communicators) is research. Much of the content out there is splattered on the page straight from the author’s brain, without any supporting facts or ideas. And I’m not even just talking about random bloggers…even people who call themselves journalists are taking less and less time doing their own fact-checking and attribution, settling instead for riffing off of someone else’s story (which may or may not be factual itself).

  • EmilyWenstrom

    I love this point you made about targeting dream clients through social media, kind of the same way one would target a media reporter you want to connect with … and it’s so obvious once you say it. I am definitely adding this to our outreach tactics.

  • Great post, Gini! I LOVE newspapers and actually like newsprint on my fingertips. This painful decline has been a real source of sadness for me, but as the article indicates, it’s inevitable. Here in Harrisburg, PA (the capital city of PA, btw) our newspaper is down to only printing three days a week.  I still contend (foolishly hope?) that there are opportunities for newspapers to survive if they become more “niche” by focusing on local news & issues and work in partnership with small business advertisers.  Regarding the diminishing field of journalism…who needs journalists when everyone and anyone is a reporter?

  • ClayMorgan Yup. Always be learning.

  • NUMBERS!!! *runs and hides*

  • SpinSucks

    KatieMHutton One thing we love about ginidietrich – she’s not afraid to be the bearer of bad news 🙂 ^ep

  • belllindsay YOU WILL DO THEM

  • Inside_PR

    SpinSucks I can hear you! KatieMHutton

  • Inside_PR

    KatieMHutton LOL

  • BillSmith3 Yes. Thank you.

  • ClayMorgan That’s the point I was trying to make: Communicators also need to develop additional skillsets.

  • EmilyWenstrom Right? So many of us forget about this for our own good. I just finished reading a book about how to scale a PR firm and that was the biggest takeaway: We’re so good at scaling our client’s organizations, but don’t do it for ourselves.

  • ginidietrich

    KatieMHutton Oops! I didn’t know I was tweeting as Inside_PR

  • The “I’m not good with numbers” thing fits in with another phenomenon I’ve been reading about lately: How detrimental it is to think that skills are inherent, rather than earned/practiced. 

    Apparently we’re just recently learning that praising kids by telling them “you’re so smart” makes them think that smarts are fixed. That they either have them or don’t. Which means that if something is challenging, they don’t try hard. So it backfires. 

    I think the same thing happened to many people who were naturally gifted with language — numbers took more work, so we assumed we weren’t good with numbers. When really, we could be just as good with them (when you really start looking at grammar, it’s basically math. Diagraming a sentence is very similar to doing an algebraic equation, just different syntax), it would just take  more effort. 
    OK, sort of a tangent, but I think it’s interesting!

  • ginidietrich EmilyWenstrom What book? I want to read it!

  • So I don’t think newspapers are dead, or dying for that matter… they are just changing. But people aren’t really good at dealing with change sometimes (which leads to massive layoffs). 

    And also… I’m not going to lie, I clicked on this article from Feedly because I saw Buzz Lightyear (maybe newspapers should publish more stories with a picture of Buzz included).

  • JasKeller I have it on my desk at home. I’ll send you the name.

  • rosemaryoneill You know, that is a really great point. I agree.

  • lizreusswig That’s so funny! I HATE the newsprint on my fingers. I wouldn’t read the back back in the day because of it.

  • EmilyWenstrom

    JasKeller ginidietrich EmilyWenstrom I was wondering that too!

  • Eleanor Pierce It IS interesting (and I just saw that research about telling kids they’re smart). The funny thing is I could have minored in statistics because I love numbers and data so much, but it wasn’t possible to go back and forth between schools at the university like that. It’s a real detriment to education.

  • ginidietrich JasKeller 😀

  • JasKeller LOL!! Whatever it takes! I’m quite pleased with that meme I created.

  • EmilyWenstrom JasKeller The funny thing about it is it’s not anything we don’t know. It’s what we do for organizations every day. I used it as a handbook to plan for 2015 because it forced me to do what we do for others.

  • ginidietrich I had a hard enough time majoring in journalism and minoring in English – the two writing styles are SO different. My journalism professors were always saying “fewer words!” while my English professors were asking “where are your transitions??”

  • Eleanor Pierce And character development and building the scene and creating an antagonist.

  • Eleanor Pierce I’m in a session with James Ellis right now and he said, “It’s not the numbers. It’s what the number lets you do.”

  • ginidietrich

    JenPalumbo That made my day!

  • KatieMHutton

    SpinSucks ginidietrich thanks for keeping it real! 🙂

  • ginidietrich Eleanor Pierce It’s true! As communicators, we may not intuitively speak numbers, but the decision makers at the top of most organizations (especially the successful ones who will pay you) DO.

  • Eleanor Pierce YEP

  • scmmas

    ginidietrich Will you please suggest resources to learn numbers? Want to make sure I get good info.

  • SpinSucks

    howiegoldfarb I can’t believe cupcakes didn’t make it to Gini’s original list! ^ep

  • These are great tips for all employees. When he mentions being a cost vs an asset. Your job is only safe if you are an asset. You have to add value in a noticeable and measurable way. You can’t measure your value without at least simple math.. Businesses don’t let go people who make the company money. The second which is more precarious is that you add value simply from the fact replacing you.

    The newspaper business was based on oligarchy-monopolies. It was a bad business model. The only portable news sources were radio and newspaper. And in many markets there was only 1-2 newspapers. The New York Times didn’t compete with the Chicago Tribune. Now they do because of the web and mobile devices. 

    Those monopolies/oligarchies had inflated revenues which supported having journalists world wide and more investigative and high end work. Since digital ads pretty much failed to replace print $$ 1 to 1 staff had to go. It sucked. I was a long time home delivery subscriber to the LA Times. I saw their downsizing from 2000-2008 including emailing with some of them. 

    So now they have more readers than ever before more total time spent consuming news than ever before (news isn’t dead) but less revenues than ever before. Which dilutes and lowers the quality of the news we consume.  Sucks!

  • howiegoldfarb

    SpinSucks cupcakes should be on every list! #marketingblogrulesnumber12and3

  • OH Dag Darn It! I left out one more thing. He makes a HUGE case for Twitter. Twitter is really only one of two platforms you can ‘get to know’ customers and prospects and better than linkedin. It is very non-threatening/non-intrusive even if it is pubic especially if you start out helpful….resharing worthy content of the person or company prospect etc. Help them before you ask them to help you.

  • SpinSucks

    howiegoldfarb True. Story. ^ep

  • EmilyWenstrom JasKeller It’s The Ultimate PR Agency New Business Handbook. It’s from Bulldog Reporter, but I just read they are going out of business. So I may have to send my copy around like Flat Stanley.

  • ginidietrich

    scmmas Yes! I’m speaking today, but I will send you some resources (or maybe write a blog post!) soon.

  • scmmas

    ginidietrich thanks, Gini!!!! I knew I could count on you.

  • ginidietrich

    JoeyGiangola I owe you an email. On the road. Still.

  • JoeyGiangola

    ginidietrich owe might be a strong word…

  • ginidietrich

    JoeyGiangola I think owe is appropriate

  • JoeyGiangola

    ginidietrich If you say so. P.S. My 19 m daughter favorited your tweet. It probably good thats the only thing she did. #ParentPhoneProblems

  • ginidietrich

    JoeyGiangola LOL!! I always have to turn the phone off so only Siri gets a workout.

  • Interesting and I agree. Per comments by Howie Goldfarb ClayMorgan and everyone else, you can’t be a one-trick pony, not in any professional. Perhaps why I wear a minimum of 3 hats on any given day? 😉 
    I also kind of flip things around. We have to adapt.. and so do others. I’ve spent a lot of time learning and learning; know I need convince others of that, that I know more and that PR can do more, that INTEGRATED (thank you TY for that) communications is good biz. 
    Alongside learning there’s teaching. I need to learn how to teach, how to be more patient – which is a tall task for me when dealing with poor communicators on the other side of the table. Technology challenged, digitally naive and narrow minded in terms of brand and business, hard to teach outside the walls of tunnel vision that has eyes on one prize. No hard guess, it’s ‘sales for our premium priced New Coke, NOW.’ 
    So there, teaching and patience two other tricks to add to the bag. FWIW.

  • JoeyGiangola

    ginidietrich she hasn’t found the power button yet? #Lucky #ItWillHappenSoon #NothingIsSafe

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  • 3HatsComm Which is why you wear three hats. LOL! I love you.

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  • yz2504

    information. It’s indeed necessary for communicators to collect data and use
    media for relationship building and business development. PR professionals
    are required to monitor and analyze information regarding to organizations, in
    spite of making a plan for crisis management or propaganda. The existence of
    various data monitoring tools such as Sysmos and Twitalyzer helps PR
    professionals to identify relevant conversation about their organizations as
    well as competitors, which in return can promote the connection with customers,
    media practitioners and competitors. Actually a successful PR professional depends
    on skills in various areas including media relations building, data integration,
    writing and management, but not just communication and public relations skills.

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