SKILLS NEEDED: The 68 skills your comms team needs and the one thing you need to remember


‘The dumbest people,’ the entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes once said ‘are the ones who think they know it all.’ 

There is so much to know about working in comms in 2019 and like Malcolm, I don’t think it’s good to know-it-all.

It was a warm summers day a few years ago when I jotted down all the skills you’ll need to work in comms. It dawned on me in writing them out you couldn’t possibly know them all yourself but the wider team could cover all the bases.

It’s been a few years since I looked at the list.

Looking at it again, it’s clear as it ever has been that you can’t know everything. You need a team of specialist generalists. People who have some solid core skills but can also excel in a few specialist areas.

Here is a list for 2019.

There are 56 and 41 of them I think everyone needs to know. Feel free to agree or disagree.

What’s the one thing you need to remember?

Keep learning.

68 skills your comms team needs to know

Those listed in bold I think everyone needs and the rest are specialisms.


  1. Know your organisation’s priorities. Its priorities are the comms team’s priorities.
  2. Know how your team reports and contribute to that.
  3. Know how to evaluate. 
  4. Be a specialist generalist.Know the basic skills and have some areas you specialise in. You can’t know it all.
  5. Know what skills other specialist generalists have. Know their strengths and weaknesses and how they compensate your own abilities.
  6. Be a gate opener not a gatekeeper and know that frontline people can communicate with the right support. 
  7. To know what an income target is and to either plan for them or offer evaluated comms savings. 
  8. Know how to flag-up an issue of concern. 
  9. Know you need to keep learning. 
  10. Know your team’s communications strategy and plan. 
  11. Know all the channels and what your audience is. 
  12. Know when to work independently and as part of a team. 
  13. Know how to manage a team.
  14. Know how to be a head of communication


Basic core skills

  1. Know it’s okay not to be okay
  2. Know how to speak human
  3. Know when to educate the client. 
  4. Know how to be a diplomat, be small ‘p’ and big ‘P’ politically aware
  5. Know when and how to speak truth to power politely.
  6. Know how to listen to the public.
  7. Know basic media law.
  8. Know the value of internal comms.
  9. Know how to write a comms plan.
  10. Know how to interpret data.
  11. Know how to respond as an organisation in an emergency.
  12. Know how to look for the influencers who can influence networks.
  13. Know how to be able to communicate to the head and the heart. 
  14. Know how to manage time. 
  15. Know GDPR.


In creating content

  1. Know how to be a story teller in different formats.
  2. Know the right content at the right time in the right place.

In person

  1. Know how to be professional, warm and engaging.
  2. Know how to present.

In text

  1. Know the jargon but communicate in plain English.
  2. Know how to write effective emails. 
  3. Know how write effective email campaigns.
  4. Know how to write a press release.
  5. Know how to be able to write for the web.
  6. Know how to create and run a survey.

In media relations

  1. Know what the key titles are, their circulation, readership and the demographic that consumes them.
  2. Know how to take, log and investigate a media query.
  3. Know the difference between ‘on the record’ and ‘off the record’ and be very, very careful with both.
  4. Know how to make a complaint about media coverage.

In images

  1. Know where find copyright free images. 
  2. Know GDPR and how to record the permission of those who are photographed, update and maintain a model consent database.
  3. Know how to take and edit images with a phone or DSLR
  4. Know how to commission and work with a photographer
  5. Know how to select information and create an infographic.
  6. Know what branding is and why it is.
  7. Know the optimum lengths of video per channel.
  8. Know how to edit, shoot with a smartphone and add text and music to a video.
  9. Know how to plan and commission and external video.


In print

  1. Know when a leaflet is a best solution and work with designers. 
  2. Know when a newsletter or magazine is the best solution and how to liaise with designers.
  3. To know what data to look for and what data to count. 
  4. To know what open data is. 


In web

  1. Know how to write for the web with metadata and in an accessible way.


In social media

  1. Know the social media channels, how your audiences use them and how to create content for them.
  2. Know and know how to deliver your organisation’s social media policy.
  3. Know when to get involved online and when not to.
  4. Know that social media isn’t all about evaluated calls to action.
  5. Know the Paretto Principle of 80-20 human v call to action content.
  6. Know that Facebook as a broad landscape rather than just your page.
  7. Know how and when to make friends with Facebook group and page admin.
  8. Know how to join Facebook groups and pages as yourself.
  9. Know how customer services works with social media.
  10. Know how to respond using social media in an emergency.
  11. Know new and emerging platforms and be able to experiment with them.
  12. Know how to create and schedule content at the right time.

Picture credit: istock.

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