So Where AR You Going? – part 2

8In the second of his series of guest posts on AR careers, Marc Duke  (blog, @marcduke) looks at the skills required to succeed in AR and how to keep them in good shape.

The IIAR will also be hosting a teleconference for members to discuss the issues raised on May 3rd at 4 pm BST/11 am EDT.

So what does AR do then…?

Without wishing to sound trite, the answer to this question is dependent on a number of factors such as:

  • Size of company
  • Size of team
  • Experience/expertise of staff
  • How “AR-friendly” the organisation is

AR can cover any of the following:

  • Proactive outbound communications to support PR, marketing and sales
  • Inbound communications to support product or business strategy development
  • Reactive communication to support research questions and consulting requests from the analysts 

Skills checklist:

The area of skills is crucial to career development and none more so than in AR. When asking what skills were required to be a successful AR professional, here were some of the answers I received:

  • Relationship management
  • Negotiation
  • Understanding markets
  • Strategic alignment of the AR function to the business
  • Business development
  • Understanding the analyst psyche
  • Market research and major trends
  • Politics
  • Presentation skills/good communicators
  • Content development
  • Strong organisation skills
  • Self-confidence and self-motivation is helpful
  • The ability to identify and differentiate products/approach/stories within their organisation and get them in front of the right analysts
  • Good at following processes, for example those involved in MQs and Waves
  • Be brilliant strategists and help to drive the organisation’s messaging,
    positioning and even the overall market strategy

An ideal AR team will have a mix of these people with complementary skills. The perfect AR person will be good at all of this, but I doubt that there are many of these individuals.

Anyone from HR reading this may well find that a lot of the roles in his or her organisation look for a significant proportion of these skills too.

In my view, the relationship building skill is THE most crucial one. We are talking about Analyst Relations so we need to relate to and understand how analysts work and at the same time match that to the organisations we work for. Sounds simple, but as you can probably tell, depending on where AR is positioned has a major impact on the skills that are used to interact with analysts.

Skilling up for the future?

The trouble with skills or technical competency is that once you have them or recognise that you need them, you need to constantly keep them honed. Like a professional athlete, if you don’t train you will lose tone quickly which will ultimately impact performance. With this in mind, an AR professional should, where possible, engage an HR function early on to get the training support required to ensure he/she can deliver the best results.

Broadly speaking the skill sets listed above split into two key categories:

Soft skills – this covers communications, relationship management and negotiation.

For this, a non-AR expert can be sourced as these are ‘horizontal skills’. Almost anyone in an organisation will at some point require support to hone these areas. There are plenty of ‘communications’ based training organisations that offer courses in this area and it is likely that a large corporate HR department will either have an in-house trainer or links with companies that it uses to regularly train staff.

Technical skills – such as understanding how market research works, understanding how analysts work, understanding current trends that impact AR operation e.g. social media.

This is a much tougher area to cover off easily as things evolve so quickly. Asking HR for bespoke training in an area they are not likely to be familiar with may result in frustration all round. I would recommend the following:

Given that training budgets are under significant pressure there is a real need to look at what is available on the Web and through LinkedIn and SlideShare.

Ultimately there is an imperative for an AR professional to take responsibility for his or her skill set in much the same way that a skilled pianist should look after their hands.

What do you need to reach the very top level?

Assuming the HR support is right, training forthcoming and the positioning correct, what do you need to get to the very top level of AR?

There is no definitive answer, and it depends on how you measure success in AR. For some, having VP or Director in their job title may be the ultimate aim. But since the AR profession is still so young, it is hard to know how you compare to your peers. As AR is by its nature so specific to the needs of a business, applying standard metrics of success becomes much harder.

The IIAR is currently developing industry awards to recognise excellence in AR. However there is also a lot to be said for peer to peer recognition. In a small industry, news travels fast and so does reputation, good or bad.

Then there is the other issue that is often mentioned, that to be a great AR professional, you have to work in the US. Having worked for a US company and for plenty of US clients, I am not convinced that this is a critical requirement. However, I understand why US-based senior VPs feel this is the case. Aside from the cultural issue that to be a great global professional you need to have worked in the regions, given the almost uniform nature of how analysts operate I am still sceptical that US AR is any more challenging than EMEA AR. But this is probably best left to others to debate further.

One contributor made the following point about geography:

“The US is in the lead, Europe is now where the US was five years ago while APAC is where Europe was 10 years ago in terms of AR.”

Can you get to the top by AR alone?

Is it possible to reach the top by just staying in AR or do you need to accept
that success comes from doing AR alongside other disciplines, such as PR? This is an issue that stems from the fact that AR is still a relatively young
discipline. It is a dynamic mix of soft and technical skills, and there may be
many in an organisation that struggle with the nuances of the practice to
really appreciate its value and impact. A salesman will get advertising and a booth at a trade show, but working through the features and functions of a five year roadmap behind closed doors is much harder to appreciate when you are down on your numbers at quarter end.

In my view the answer lies in working out what the internal stakeholders needs are, and how AR can, or in some instances cannot, meet those needs. If the organisation is sales driven, AR skills will need to be supplemented with knowledge and insight into lead generation or business development. If the company is focused on brand building, understanding how to build a technology B2B brand will strengthen the focus of the AR professional.

Does this mean that by definition the AR professional has to skill up in other
areas? This depends on those around you as well as the issue of whether working with industry analysts is challenging enough as a career.

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