The pursuit of competence is a drive in every progressive PR professional. It is in being competent that the respect of peers and the recognition of top management of any organization or client you work for are gained. Unfortunately, many PR professionals still confuse competence with being a skilled PR technician with a long list of media contacts and a good number of years logged into the practice. While these are important elements of success in the field, they do not truly define competence today.

 In this article, I will attempt to bring out the differences between competence, competency and capability, which are often used interchangeably, and discuss what it means to be competent in Public Relations in the light of the Global Alliance Capability Framework.

What is Competence?

Quoting International Standards Organization in his work, Competence, Competencies and/or Capabilities for Public Communication? A Public Sector Study, published in Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, Jim Macnamara  defines competence as “the ability to apply knowledge and skills to achieve intended results.” He explains that competence is mostly described and defined externally – for example by a professional body. It focuses on the needs in a particular profession or industry as determined by a professional or industry body.

The key difference between competence and competency is that the later is defined internally. The focus is on what PR professionals do to express their roles at any given time in a given situation within an organization. Macnamara defines it as “an individual’s capacity to perform particular tasks or a role competently.”

Capability is a more holistic and broader concept that is made up of knowledge, skills, abilities, competency and competence. Quoting Nagarajan and Prabhu, Macnamara defines capability as “integration of knowledge, skills and personal qualities used effectively and appropriately in response to varied, familiar and unfamiliar circumstances.”

Capability emphasizes a PR professional’s ability to adapt to the changing circumstances in the PR landscape and continue to deliver top performance to organizations or clients. It also looks at the flexibility and ability of the PR professional to draw from past personal experience as well as the experiences of others and use them in conjunction with new knowledge gained in novel situations to deliver creative PR solutions that meet the expectations of their organizations or clients.

The New Yardstick

As society gets more complex, and is driven by information explosion fuelled by constant innovation in digital technology, just being a competent PR professional is not enough. The new yardstick for competence is capability. The PR professional must be able to navigate the rapid changes in the business environment successfully and deliver value to his organization or client.

 Interestingly, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management has issued a new framework to guide PR professionals across the globe on what to do. It identifies eleven capabilities every PR professional across the globe should possess:

  1. To align communication strategies with organizational purpose and values. The PR professional should be able to set clear communication objectives that align with organizational objectives and implement them successfully. He should understand how communication can and cannot help realize of an organization’s objectives.
  2. To identify and address communication problems proactively. You should be able to create short and long-term narratives that meet the communication needs of different stakeholders, identify opportunities to design organizational communication with core and relevant content and develop integrated communication operations.
  3. To conduct formative and evaluative research to underpin communication strategies and tactics. This is about the use of research to listen and understand stakeholders before, during and after relationship building activities.
  4. To communicate effectively across a full range of platforms and technologies. The PR professional should understand all communication specialties such as investor relations and the relevant communication channels for specific stakeholders. He should be able to communicate across paid, earned, shared and owned channels with strong written and visual skills to create and tell stories that engage the target audience.
  5. To facilitate relationships and build trust with internal and external stakeholders and communities. This speaks to your ability to identify, analyze and listen to stakeholders, develop strategies that engage them and communicate effectively with them, taking into consideration their cultures, values and beliefs.
  6. To build and enhance organizational reputation. The sub-capabilities in this category include the ability to identify, analyze and strategically advise on key issues and risks that could jeopardize an organization’s reputation. It also covers defining and enacting an organization’s purpose and values, shaping its culture and its processes and managing key intangible assets such as brand, culture, sustainability etc.
  7. To provide contextual intelligence. This involves the ability to identify strategic opportunities, threats, issues and trends in the business environment, and demonstrate a broad understanding of local and global diversity in culture, values and beliefs.
  8. To provide valued counsel and be a trusted advisor. Here, you offer strategic counsel to executive management, particularly on stakeholders’ interests and sentiments, issues and how to avoid crisis.
  9. To offer organizational leadership. This involves the ability to demonstrate communication leadership by encouraging management based on dialogue, and demonstrate business and financial acumen through sound knowledge of the organization’s business and processes.
  10.  To work within an ethical framework on behalf of the organization and in line with professional and society’s expectations. The sub-capabilities here include understanding and applying ethical frameworks, considering business objectives in the light of society’s expectations and observing the societal obligations of professionals.
  11. To develop self and others, including continuing professional development. Take responsibility for your professional development, participate in industry events  and offer professional guidance to team members and others.

Developing these capabilities gives you the confidence to venture into uncharted PR territories, take appropriate actions and resolve complex problems for your organization or client.  Increase your knowledge of PR, build your skills-set, build your character, monitor and adapt to the ever-changing business environment of today and you are right on your way to becoming the quintessential and capable  PR professional you are meant to be.