What is the best age to work in PR?
2nd April 2014
What is the perfect age to work in PR? Exactly 23.1 says Charlie Parsley, senior account executive, at agency Pic PR, but she admits this is her biased view! Her more balanced opinion is that any age is fine in PR: “Differing ages bring different things to public relations and without that, no agency would have diversity in skill sets and ideas. For example, young graduates and interns bring fresh and creative ideas, which help with continual growth and forward movement that is vital to stay ahead of the game. It is easy for habits to creep in, and fresh-thinking graduates can be a welcome addition to the mix.”
In complete agreement that there is no perfect age to work in PR, but keen to highlight the gravitas that older people bring to the industry, Jon Priestley, head of PR at agency Wolfstar London, worries that today‘s focus on new technologies could prejudice people towards favouring young geeks: "I've personally met dynamic and forward-thinking 60 year olds in our industry, and similarly rather staid and tech-shy 20 something’s. That said, there is a subtle reassurance that can be given to clients who see the odd strand of grey hair and a few wrinkles across the board table; there's no substitute for age and experience in our industry and I hope that the rush to embrace new technology does not translate into unnecessary discrimination against those older members of our industry."
Also against age discrimination is Rob Ettridge, partner at PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, although he points out this can work against younger people too: “Of course some things can’t be taught and will only come with age and experience of being put in certain situations, such as managing the room, reacting to difficult clients – but who’s to say that someone who’s been in the industry for 30 years is more qualified to talk about a social media launch for a new game than someone who is fresh into PR but knows the gaming sector inside out?”
People of different ages have unique talents to offer, although young people may need to be encouraged differently from their elders. Sue Grant, co-founder of agency onechocolate communications, offers this advice to the younger PR generation: “In your 20s, you have the naivety along with the energy and enthusiasm to believe that anything is possible, you have no inhibitions. At this stage, my advice is get your hands dirty, get stuck in and try every job that presents itself.
For older PROs, Grant suggests that you should be a good role model to those with less experience: “By your 50s, you've learnt a lot, and seen a lot of various outcomes to many different situations, you've been through the bad times as well as the good times, and this undoubtedly gives you a wealth of experience to draw from. You get less stressed by the day-to-day problems so you a can provide a calmness and give good guidance (most of the time) to younger people around you.”
In PR’s competitive and constantly evolving environment, there is a need for a wide range of people that combine experience with innovation. As Pippa Burridge, director of operations at agency Hill+Knowlton Strategies, concludes, it is not age that matters, but the value an individual brings to an organisation: “We need to show we are trusted advisers to our clients, demonstrate our creativity, understand their business challenges and ultimately be able to tell a great story about their brands. To do this effectively, we need a diverse workforce of different ages and backgrounds, a breadth of skill sets and the ability to deliver the best possible insights and ideas to our clients. The value is in understanding that we constantly learn from each other, whatever our age or generation. And ultimately it comes down to the individual, their attitude, drive and knowledge and how they embrace the real opportunities in which they work.”
Tony Watts, MD of agency Hartley Watts Communications and chairman, South West Forum on Ageing, gives his take on being a senior PRO, and describes how the industry has changed in 40 years:
“This year’s my fortieth in PR (although I have also strayed into journalism as well) and the industry has moved on light years. Then, there were scarcely any PROs, but news desks were crammed with journalists. Today it’s the reverse.”
“Then it was all about developing a trusted relationship with a journalist, and giving them enough material to write their own story. Today, it seems a lot more about feeding news outlets with pre-digested copy and images, and then hassling to see if it will be used.”
“Is it better? In some ways it’s easier to get covered – particularly as the web will soak up vast amounts of PR material – but nigh impossible to get a journo out from behind their desk. The in-depth approach is much harder to achieve. Now that my hair is grey, I don’t get involved in the hustle, it would be rather unseemly, but the basics of communication haven’t changed, just the media. And I absolutely love social media – it’s a fantastic comms tool.”
“So I work with younger people who seem to respect my strategic thinking, experience and writing skills, and I let them get on with issuing and placing stories. No one has told me I’m too old … perhaps they’re just being kind?”