It’s laughably easy to claim a burning desire to make an industry more accessible – in fact, it’s become almost obligatory. It’s rather more difficult to mean it, and then to do something about it. But I believe that over the past few years, we at the PRCA have done more than just say the right things on inclusivity. We have taken action.
That’s probably because my board genuinely believes in it. If you speak with board members Colin Byrne or Robert Phillips for example, their passion on the subject is obvious. Mine is sometimes less obvious, but just as strong. Let me explain why, and in a somewhat personal manner.
Almost exactly 20 years ago, in August 1992, I left a rather comfortable home. At the age of 16. With a grand total of £20 in my wallet, and some books and clothes in a bag. But also with a strong desire to be my own man, and to shape my own future.
Over the next three years, I worked in some crappy jobs, and lived in a place that might best be described as a dodgy hostel. But I also got accepted for a place at Oxford to read politics, philosophy and economics (PPE). Which was quite satisfying. And now of course I am director general of the PRCA.
I say that neither by way of intro to some extreme US republican spiel on self-dependency. Nor to elicit sympathy or admiration. Because actually, a great deal of that journey was achieved through the kindness of strangers; a fair bit through pure good fortune.
Why the rather personal narrative? Because I truly believe in equality of access. Not as a way – as appears to be the case with some of our politicians – of assuaging guilty baggage from a privileged background. Nor as some kind of class-war impulse. But because I think that we are missing out on so much raw talent, both as a PR industry in particular, and as a country in general. Put aside any moral imperatives for a moment: there is a simple business case for bringing the most talented people into our business.
And I consider that over the past two decades, social mobility has gone into reverse – and with university fees at £9K a year, it is hard to see how that reverse will itself be reversed.
I said at the start that I believe the PRCA has made a good start here. We’ve led a campaign to pay interns at least the minimum wage. We’ve created the country’s first PR apprenticeship programme. Our Access Commission proposed, and we accepted, a whole raft of specific and timed recommendations to open up our industry. We’ve supported both the Taylor Bennett Foundation and the Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme, by giving their young people not just warm words, but free access to a training and qualifications programme.
I recognise that we have more to do – our figures showing that only a quarter of interns are paid the minimum wage prove that. But I would like to hope that in some small way, we are working to make it easier for, say, a 16-year-old kid living alone to one day become DG of a professional body.