The not-so-old truism that “you can’t outsource” a haircut is no doubt a comfort to the barbers in this world of globalized services, but communication professionals might want to give some serious thought to how they can ensure job security.
There are already various offshore press release writing and distribution services, and on the other side of the media equation some major media newsrooms have outsourced editing functions to lower-cost jurisdictions. Then there’s the fact that social media is rewriting that PR-Media equation to such an extent that today’s primary roles (reporter, flack) seem likely to be unrecognizable in the very near future.
What’s a PR person to do, then, to create some career longevity?
In an episode of his CNN Show GPS, aired on Dec. 26, 2010, author, journalist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria offered some suggestions that, while not aimed specifically at PR practitioners, are applicable and smart for us anyway.
Mr. Zakaria said that he married some of his ideas with those of author Tom Friedman (The World is Flat) to come up with this list. My comments on his list are in italics.
1. Do something that is really a specialized craft or art, something that is as much art as craft, something that feels more like artisanship than routine work. (That is certainly the Ketchum view. There is art and science to great, effective communication. Anyone who is reasonably competent with language can write a press release. But a sustainable PR pro is someone who can tell a story that is engaging and persuasive; someone who can make a difference.)
2. Go local. Do something that can’t be outsourced. Jobs involving personal face-to-face contact will never go to India. (But, you exclaim, we do everything on email, Twitter, text, phone etc. None of that is face-to-face. True enough, but you are really in the business of creating and maintaining relationships. IRL — in real life — is the best way to cement those relationships. Have a coffee with a reporter/blogger/influencer just for the hell of it.)
3. Become indispensable. (Good communication skills have never been more indispensable. A communication professional who is a master of this craft, who can provide wise counsel in challenging situations, who can write well, who inspires confidence, is credible, can collaborate well, can take in information and synthesize well, put things together, work with others and work well across countries and cultures — that person will always be of great value to an organization.)
4. Learn another language. (Yes, absolutely, and in the absence of that learn your native language very well. You are a communication expert. Words, grammar, syntax, imagery and images are your important tools. Learn all the ways to use them and use them well.)
5. Learn math. (OK, that’s asking a lot for someone whose passion is language and communication. Fareed is right, of course. If you are good at math, you will be able to deal with data, algorithms, symbols, graphs and balance sheets, all of which are essential skills for a knowledge-based economy. I’d widen this one to: Be interested. Learn other stuff. Widen your base of knowledge so you can be part of more conversations, even if only to ask questions.)
That’s the end of Fareed’s list, which is great advice for anyone who wants to outsource-proof their career.
For PR professionals who want to ensure their relevance regardless of global economic or technological developments, all you have to do is make sure you’re always the most skilled communicator in the room.