At what age do you peak in PR?
Daney Parker, Editor, PRmoment.com
With age comes experience, but is this a useful asset in PR, or are you more appreciated when you are young? We ask PRs for their views on working in PR at different ages, the pros and the cons.
20s and 30s
Younger does not mean inexperienced
Jessica Pardoe, senior PR Exec at agency The Source PR: “The average age across PR professionals seems to be getting younger, this is thanks (in my opinion) to digital PR and marketing becoming a more attractive and exciting option for graduates and young people. However, this also leads to an assumption of inexperience amongst older PR professionals. Younger people seem to be favoured more because of their dynamic experience with the changing media landscape, but regardless of this, I’ve found in my time that more established PR people seem to view us as more inexperienced and not having an in-depth understanding of PR. Whilst I do agree that years of experience are definitely a good thing, the PR industry changes so much that even just a year or so in industry can keep you abreast with all the latest knowledge and understanding that you would need, as it changes so often. I’m proud to be a young person in PR and think there’s never been a more exciting time to be a part of this industry.”
Don’t ask me to fix the computer!
Will Catterall, account executive at digital PR agency No Brainer: “I started in PR when I was 18, fresh out of school and only a few weeks’ marketing experience from a law firm internship. It was fantastic to be given a chance, and I think in general a lot of PR agencies do like to help young people into the industry.
“The challenges are adapting to the business world quite quickly - you can’t communicate with a client via Snapchat or Instagram. You soon learn the importance of a phone call, and even more so good email etiquette. Hiring a young person in PR can bring a lot of benefits, especially if they have a passion for the industry. You pick up good practice that stays with you for your whole career, and even after just three or four years you can build up great contacts through networking and training with the likes of the CIPR. I’ve had a positive experience so far and definitely made the right choice in going straight into work, rather than university.
“The main bugbear - don’t ask me to fix the computer, printer or anything else technical - just because I’m Gen Z doesn’t make me an IT expert!”
Younger team members have valuable insights
Cath McElroy, senior editor at PR agency Bottle: “Regardless of the industry you work in, your age will often correlate with your level of experience, so there’s no denying there’s benefits to being older when it comes to skills, knowledge and credibility with senior clients. That said, I couldn’t do my job without the younger members of my team; they have natural digital literacy and are living and breathing the trends we are advising our clients on, so I often consider their counsel far more valuable than mine!”
Young people can suffer age discrimination too
Emma Streets, senior PR and brand reputation manager at delivery firm Hermes: “A lot of PR relies on intuition and making judgement calls, which are qualities that evolve in us over time and are based on life experience, so whilst there is definitely a perception out there that PR is an industry with an age expiry limit, I disagree! Looking back on my 16 years in the industry so far, although there have been moments where I experienced age discrimination for being too young and I was impatient, now that I’m older there is an understanding and appreciation that experience brings wisdom. The challenge now for people who’ve been in the industry as long as I have is channelling the knowledge gained from real life experiences that you just can’t fast track and combining it with continually learning new skills, as our world is evolving so fast.”
40s and 50s
With experience comes perspective
Catherine Warrilow, head of PR and content at digital gaming company Rank Interactive: “Having hit the sweet early 40s spot, it’s a very different game in PR to the one I remember of my early 20s. But it’s all good…
“The biggest advantage I find that has come with age and experience is that there’s absolutely no point crying over lost coverage when it’s entirely out of your hands. I used to lie awake at night envisaging how I could claw back an opportunity that had simply vanished into thin air because of a changing news agenda or something else that just wasn’t in my control.
“Having ALL of the PR battle scars of the last 20 years I’ve learnt to focus on continually moving forwards and finding new opportunities and alternative angles, rather than dwelling on what could have been.
“I also think you get far better at ‘talking’ to the press as opposed to selling to them, the older and wiser you get.”
Juggling kids and a high-profile career
Michelle Hatcher, founder of Michelle Hatcher Media: “I didn't come into PR (albeit I jumped straight into high-profile PR) until I was 40. Before that, I had been a jobbing journalist in my spare time working for a Canadian media company because I could work through the night.
“By the time I got into PR, my son was 11 years old. I spent the first couple of years in-house working in local authority which suited me. However, the project was the Road Races through Surrey at the start of the London Olympics and to get my hours in, I would arrive at the office at 7am and work through until 2pm so I could hurry back to pick him up from school.”
“Most of my clients are still in London, but now with my son at 20 years old, work for me has got a lot easier, despite me being a lot older.
“I did struggle for a time. Jon, my son, has special needs meaning I have put him first throughout my career. Now I am almost 50, I don't feel pressured by the up-and-coming generation of PRs behind me. Many of them come to me for advice because of who I have worked for in my career. I have been lucky to still be high profile, which has kept me in business and allowed me to stay away from the rat race.”
Support for women through the menopause
Pam Lyddon, CEO of agency Bright Star Digital: “With age comes the old adage of experience and hopefully a healthy outlook on what is and isn’t important. However, at some point in our lives comes peri-menopause and menopause ...
“I suspect that in the past our PR sisters have just put up and shut up with the symptoms that include hot flushes, anxiety, forgetfulness, and insomnia (there are actually around 30 symptoms!!) but now more people are talking about it (thanks Davina) it's not a taboo subject anymore.
“So what can PR professionals do to support women going through this life change?
- Educate everyone in the agency
- Nominate someone they can chat to about it
- Allow women to take time off if they need to
- Create a supportive environment
“PR is a female-dominated industry and it's time we started talking about an issue that affects 50% of the population.”
Age is just a number
PR suits all ages
Tamika Martin, director and PR consultant from agency Ucreate PR and Events Management: “When it comes to age and PR, it is fair from my viewpoint to say that age is merely a number and you can be a trail-blazing PR at the tender age of 25-plus to a seasoned 40-plus year old. The advantage of being in such a career at a later age in life is that you are more grounded, more patient and you are likely to have more experience.”
Age is irrelevant in purpose-driven PR
Andrea Hartley, founder and CEO of communications consultancy Skating Panda: “Age is irrelevant if you work in purpose-driven PR. It’s vocational and you just deliver. Your energy and commitment drives you forward. With young children, flexible working is possible. You’re always on, so provided the job’s done and the deadline’s met, it’s often easier to work non-traditional hours - and you get to see your kids too. With travel, less so, I put off starting a family for another year as I was working in LA on giving the biggest TV programme a soul, my husband thousands of miles away in the UK. In our work at Skating Panda on health and gender campaigns, your personal experience of the juggle of life enhances the delivery. Working on maternal mortality campaigns when pregnant, on gender inequity based on lived experience, and now, edging towards 50, we’ve just launched The Menopause Charity. What can I say - it’s been an immensely serendipitous journey.”
One of the advantages of working in PR is that there are opportunities at all ages and levels of experience. But it is worth remembering that different ages can have their challenges, and to be considerate of those experiencing these challenges.
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