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Do I Really Need to Learn HTML?

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Twice in the past few weeks I’ve heard other PR professionals talk about the need to learn HTML.

Sarah Skerik wrote this piece on 5 Emerging PR Trends & the New Emerging PR Skill Set for 2012 (& Beyond) for the PR Newswire blog and noted that, “Personally, I swear that one of these days I’m going to learn HTML and CSS.”

Another commenter in the same discussion, Steve Leer, a communications consultant/senior writer at Purdue University Department of Agricultural Communication, detailed the varied requirements demanded of public relations professionals by employers today: “Today’s professional communicator needs to know how to shoot and edit photos and video, be proficient in social media, create graphics, possess at least a basic understanding of Web design and know how to work with outside vendors for printed materials,”

In a recent #soloPR Twitter chat about learning more about SEO, @KristK tweeted, “A2: Know enough HTML to read code, spot problems — and when to hire a pro to help.” (There were lots of other good tips on remembering to incorporate key words, tags, incorporate link building, eliminate jargon; the full transcript available here.)

Heck, even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is talking about learning to code.

So is HTML really important for PR professionals to know?

Here are some considerations:

HTML is essential for building web sites – HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is a coding language to develop web pages and is still considered essential for knowing how to build a web site. As a PR professional, do you need to know how to build a web site? Well, perhaps you don’t need to know how to write the code for an entire site, but I’ve sure heard lots of colleagues complain about their inability to fix problems on a site or blog, or get them to “look right.”

Knowing HTML will help you navigate SEO efforts– knowing HTML can help you write tags that will make your content more likely to be found and highlighted by search engines. This post explains meta tags and how to use HTML to do them properly. However, if you use one of the major blog publishing tools it’s likely that you can do this simply by typing your tags into the designated spots. For instance, when I post blogs in WordPress, I use the “All in One SEO Pack.”

HTML skills will help you add value to PR efforts –so many PR activities involve web-based media now that it seems silly to split hairs about where the PR role ends. In fact, in some situations there may not be anyone but the PR professional to do the work. For instance, how many times have you worked on the following types of projects?

  • Linking an image to a web site
  • Creating a unique landing page for a Facebook profile
  • Drafting and editing e-newsletters
  • Writing blog posts
  • Tailoring a press release to be web-friendly
  • Embedding multimedia items into pitches, emails and other written content
  • Reworking a web page with new messaging

What do you think? Is it time for PR professionals to learn some code?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


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