What Skills are in Demand for Strategic Communications Professionals?

Mike Kohler

Mike Kohler, Online Faculty

“I Want It All … and I Want It Now!”

Many of us recognize the subtitle of this post as a famous Queen refrain.

No, it’s not karaoke time, though now we will have Freddie Mercury’s voice in our heads for the next hour – sorry!

For those in the business of workforce management, that refrain describes the typical job description that Human Resource (HR) professionals post as they’re recruiting strategic communications professionals. In this profession, our blessing can sometimes be our curse, which is the expectation of us to be masters of all trades, jacks of none.

So when I’m asked to discuss what skills employers are looking for in a strategic communications professional, Bert Campaneris comes to mind. Campaneris was one of a select group of major league baseball players to play all nine positions in a single nine-inning game.

Amazingly, he was proficient in every one of them.

A typical job posting for a communications professional suggests the recruiter is looking for a Campaneris. In sheer volume, the posting looks like a Wikipedia entry for the Rolling Stones’ discography. (Yes, Millennials, that’s a lot.)

But if I must suggest a few that stand out, three attributes come to mind:

  1. Business acumen;
  2. Relationship management;
  3. Digital fluency.

Business Acumen

For a communication leader to earn credibility and, therefore, a “seat at the table” in senior leadership, knowledge of business strategy is a must. Whether a for-profit business or a nonprofit public sector entity, all organizations share the MBA definition of their #1 imperative – survival. And survival isn’t possible unless inputs exceed outputs. The most important contribution a communicator can make is to understand and support the financial goals of an organization. It’s not enough to be an excellent writer or graphic artist. Demonstrating how those talents translate to the bottom line is critical.

Relationship Management

An age-old maxim applies here: “People do business with people they like.” The likeability factor is bigger than many people realize, whether on the selling or buying side. People with no sales training often think “closing” is something a salesperson does at the end of a pitch. Skilled sales professionals will attest that closing is the first thing that happens. A trust relationship starts building from the first impression and hopefully keeps on growing, resulting in repeat transactions.

Digital Fluency

Digital literacy doesn’t pass muster any more. Years ago, when social media began to blossom, companies hastily crowned internal “social media experts” based on a tech-savvy employee’s ability to build a Facebook page or use Hootsuite. Senior leaders weren’t sure what their experts were doing – but they were pretty sure they needed it. Now, social media usage is commonplace and the marketplace is rife with dozens of social media tools for businesses. But without a strategy, social media activity can be useless or, even worse, damaging.

Our Program’s Value

Our communications graduate program builds our skills – both students and instructors – in all these areas. To varying degrees, all the courses and instructors emphasize practical real-world applications along with the theories that provide the underpinnings of strategic communications. In plainer terms, a blend of book learning and street smarts.

The case studies in the curriculum and the exchanges among students and faculty strengthen our relationship-building. Success in Discussion, for example, is impossible without interdependencies. And the learning platform we use every week demands more than passing knowledge of digital systems.

The beneficiaries of all this skill-building? Our current and future employers. And, for that matter, the digital world.

Learn More

Mike Kohler is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

Mike Kohler has been a business owner, business coach and communication consultant. He has served as a communications vice president for two of the largest U.S. broadband companies and as a marketing and communications consultant for all types and sizes of organizations. Stemming from his experience as both a franchisee and master franchisor, Kohler co-authored The Educated Franchisee, a guide for prospective entrepreneurs. He earned his MBA and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.