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What Marketing Skills Do You Need for 2021 and Beyond?

Reading Time: 9 minutes
marketing skills

This is the time of year where the prediction posts start popping up. I’ve gotta say, I’m not really a fan. Sure, they can be kind of fun, like pulling out a board game and playing it with family and friends, but they don’t provide much value.

To be honest, I stopped for a quick second and thought about writing a prediction post. After that second passed, I laughed at the idea and set out to create something tangible. Something that wasn’t designed to get clicks but would help you in some way.

In my head, I created this idea of a post that would focus on the basics of what you needed to execute marketing and public relations activities. It was kind of a marketing/PR 101 post. I threw the idea out on Twitter to see what people would say and I got some good responses.

My idea evolved from a marketing/PR 101 post to something more. This is where we currently are dear reader. At a place where we can talk about the type of marketing skills you need to do well in 2021 and beyond to get results.

Many of these ideas are going to be obvious but like your favorite sports team, if you’re not able to execute the basics well things start to break down. It’s a truth that I think is vastly underrated. That is until it happens.

As fast as the world is moving sometimes and with all the change that comes at us, it can be easy to forget the basics. That’s how I see these skills that I’m going to talk about.

I always hope that when you’ve read a post, it makes you think. I’m not here to throw absolutes at you, except for a strategic plan. You should really have a strategic plan but I digress.

There are nine different skills that you going to need moving forward:

  • Embracing Change
  • Communication
  • Writing
  • Collaboration
  • Research
  • Data Analytics
  • Problem Solving
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Integration

2000 words into this post I realized I had only written the introduction and the first two topics on this list. Rather than create an enormous 10,000-word post, I have decided to break this topic into three posts.

I don’t know about you but I need to digest ideas. Too many in one post can not only lead to information overload but they can feel overwhelming to even start thinking about. I usually break huge posts into several readings so it seemed only fair to allow you to take a breath.

With that, we are going to talk about three things today. Change, communication and writing.

I know what you are thinking. Isn’t writing part of communication? Yes, it is. There is a reason why I broke it out this way. You’ll find out why when I get there but for now, enough of my rambling, let’s move on to our first skill.

Embrace Change

If there is anything that 2020 has taught us, it’s we need to have the ability to adjust to the world around us. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t needed to make adjustments based on unforeseen issues.

However, it shouldn’t take a pandemic, recession, or major new technology force you to embrace change.

Change is a theme that I like to talk about. It pops up in many of my articles if only subtly. The reason is the fact that the world never stops changing. 

I used to work at Intel, a large technology company. It goes without saying that the tech industry moves fast. We were always adjusting to being able to provide the next thing. What’s on the cutting edge this year is ancient only a couple of years later. 

When I started, I was told that to stay at Intel long term I would likely change directions multiple times. This meant improving your skills wasn’t just a want, it was a need.

It’s not any different for marketers and PR people.

As technology has grown and become more of our everyday lives, it has impacted not only how we do our jobs but how we think about them as well. 

In the worlds of digital marketing and public relations (PR) change isn’t slowing. It’s accelerating. 

The knowledge that you acquired three years ago may already be out of date. 

I don’t know about you but I feel like software. As I read, listen, practice, and learn I update myself to the latest and greatest operating system but it doesn’t stop. Version 2.0 needs to be updated to version 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and at some point, all the way up to 3.0, 4.0, and somebody day 20.0. The learning just doesn’t stop because change is happening so fast.

This where I have seen issues, not just with myself but with the conversations I see on social media and in forums. Sometimes I realize I’m thinking about things in a 2017 context instead of a present-day context. I see others are doing the same thing. 

Change is hard but like many things in this life, it’s about having the right mindset. It’s why I decided one of the values for my company should be to embrace change.

If you fight it, change is absolutely miserable. If you ignore it completely you might find that you are a dinosaur on the cusp of going extinct. But, if you embrace change you’ll see, while it can be unnerving, it can also be exciting.

It’s time to stop acting like the world isn’t moving forward. Embrace change.

Be a Great Communicator

This is one of those ideas I warned you about earlier. It seems pretty obvious that being a great communicator would be a necessity for marketers and PR people. And by the way, everybody thinks they are a great communicator.

I was a communication major. Ironically, I rarely run into anybody in marketing or PR who has a degree in communication. I don’t mean to imply I know everything about communication and do it perfectly all the time. Far from it.

What it does give me is the knowledge that communication is really hard. There are so many places it can go wrong.

Things such as body language, tone of voice, the words you choose, your sex, your age, where you grew up, where you live now, experiences, and cultural traditions all impact communication.

Rarely does anybody stop and think about all these things when they communicate. Frankly, it would be overwhelming to do so.

This creates an issue because everything we do in marketing and PR comes from a place of communication.

We’ve all experienced that moment where we said something and it was maybe misinterpreted by the person you were talking with. There are few things worse than realizing you hurt somebody’s feelings when you didn’t mean to.

You’ve also been in that situation where somebody said something that hit a nerve and made your blood boil.

Those exact same things can play out in an ad. In a social media post. On your website. On your podcast. In a video.

In these places, you aren’t communicating with people one to one. You are coming in contact with hundreds, thousands, and possibly even millions of people.

A few months ago I was watching a presentation from Wil Reynolds, founder of Seer Interactive, on YouTube from MozCon 2016. He made the comment that you don’t know what kind of baggage people bring with them to your website.

Something that you think is innocuous may be loaded with negative connotations for somebody else.

This gets really interesting when you think about applying it to your marketing and PR and it’s why you need to know your audience.

But its not just your prospects or clients. It’s your employees and vendors as well.

It’s easy to communicate when everybody has the exact same beliefs and is in agreement with you. It becomes harder when there is some disagreement.

Disagreement can be uncomfortable We avoid it or maybe even run to the hills leading to a breakdown in communication.

At Intel, we practiced something called constructive confrontation. If somebody did something that upset you, it was expected you deal with it in a positive way. If employees are upset with each other, it can be hard to get work done but this concept is meant to help individuals resolve their differences via communication.

How do you deal with it on an organizational level?

Julia Angelen Joy of Z Group PR says that we need to “create a culture of communication.”

“You need to talk about all the things that impact the business,” she says. “From employees to media to vendors to issues — including the hard stuff that people like to sweep under the carpet.”

Being able to have those tough conversations is arguably even more important than it is when everything is good.

Communication is more than a tactic. It’s a basic part of life.

It’s just not just there for when everybody is happy or when you have that announcement to make that you’re really excited about. It’s also necessary when things are tough. Being able to communicate in both these situations in an honest way that preserves the dignity of everybody is essential.

Become A Good Writer

Writing should fall under communication, right? It should and it does. However, I feel writing is an important enough skill that it needs to be addressed on its own.


Well as Michelle Garrett of Garrett Public Relations aptly stated, “If you can’t put a sentence together, your future in PR is going to be tough. Writing permeates EVERYTHING we do.”

Of course it’s isn’t just PR, it’s marketing too.

Every piece of marketing involves writing in some shape or form. This is not to say that all forms of marketing are delivered in a written form but that doesn’t mean that writing didn’t play a part in creating them.

Yes, this includes podcasts and video.

Don’t believe me?

Enter Jay Acunzo. He is the host of several podcasts including 3 Clips and Unthinkable. He hosted, co-directed, and wrote (yes wrote) the video docuseries, Against The Grain, and is also the founder of Marketing Showrunners which teaches its subscribers how to create podcasts and video shows.

I asked him a simple question: How much writing do you do as part of the process of creating your podcasts and the video series you host.

His response?

“A ton. I write the strategy plus rundown which involves the empathy statement & other bits of copy. I write the voiceover/narration. I write some questions in prep. I write articles and a weekly newsletter and tweets and IG and LI posts. It’s 90% writing, 10% talking at a mic/camera.”

Writing is foundational to marketing and PR and if you’re not good at it, as Michelle said, life is going to be tough. You simply can’t get away from writing and there isn’t a shortcut.

When you talk, you don’t always stop and think about what you’re saying. This isn’t to say you don’t know what you’re talking about. The ideas go from your brain to your mouth so fast that conveying what you want to say is instantaneous.

It doesn’t work that way with writing.

Writing is a process and it can be hard even for the best writers.

I once read an interview with a successful novelist who said that she didn’t like writing. It seemed like an odd statement from somebody who had made writing a career but I get where she is coming from.

It’s easy to come up with ideas but it’s hard to develop and execute them. It’s as true in marketing as it is for a novelist.

When you talk, your words float off into space. When you write, the words stare back at you. If they aren’t the right words it can feel like they are mocking you.

The simple fact of the matter is the more you write, the better you get and one thing that might help you become a better writer is to write fiction.

My friend, Whitney, used to create content for a lock company. She wrote posts on doors and locks. Exhilarating topic right?

She credits her fiction writing for helping her add some life to a dry topic.

“Doors and locks are something that we encounter every day, but my fiction writing helped me switch up my view. I wasn’t just writing dry, product-driven posts anymore. Suddenly I was finding ways to make the LockNet blog more entertaining, and I even found ways to connect everything from biometrics and Back to the Future to four-point locking systems and the zombie apocalypse. It was all in how I changed the angle and tone of the post. And that was due entirely to being able to write fiction outside of work.”

There are many resources available but two that I recommend are Everybody Writes by Ann Handley and On Writing by Stephen King. Both are great books to help you improve your writing skills.

While the simple act of writing will help you become a better writer, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out something else that will help you write better. Read.

You read that right. If you want to be a better writer, read more. As Stephen King pointed out, “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”

Read fiction, non-fiction, blogs, magazines. Read everything you can.

This means shutting off Netflix or the gaming console for a period of time. Don’t worry, They will still be there after you’re done reading and you will have helped yourself to become a better writer.

To Be Continued…

This the end of our first article. Before we part ways, I want to give a shout-out to Julia Angelen Joy, Michelle Garrett, Jay Acunzo, and Whitney Danhauer for sharing their wisdom. Their thoughts were extremely important in helping craft this article.

In part two of this series, I will talk about the next three marketing skills that you need to prosper in 2021: collaboration, research, and data analytics.

I’m not going to publish next week because of Christmas so you’ll find the second part on December 29th.

Until then, be good humans.

*Image by janrye from Pixabay

Shane Carpenter
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