How the youth of today are shaping PR

It can be tough getting started in a PR career, and as you get established, the challenges keep on coming. We interviewed PROs under 30 to find out what it is like to be young in PR these days. We spoke to Emily Anderson, trainee executive at PR firm Lansons; Ruth Follows, PR manager at integrated agency Cognition; Richard Hanney, junior account manager at agency Manifest Communications; Victoria Leyton, account manager at Lansons; Gemma Mejer, consultant at PR agency Calacus; and Daniel Rolle, senior associate at PR firm Burson-Marsteller.

Why I chose PR

Daniel Rolle: “As a student newspaper journalist and modern languages student my first thoughts on careers were the media and the diplomatic corps. However as I dug deeper, it became clear that the type of work that I wanted to do, the sort of thinking I liked doing and the results I wanted to achieve through my work, were covered very succinctly by a career in political and corporate communications.”

Emily Anderson: “I chose to work in PR after a friend’s dad set me up with an internship in my second year of university. Like many people at 21 I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but through my internship I found that I really enjoyed PR.”

Ruth Follows: ”I first made the jump after working for a weekly newspaper, when a Leicester-based full-service agency saw my potential.”

Main challenges

Richard Hanney: “The biggest challenge has been learning the trade in an environment that is evolving so rapidly. The digital innovations of the last decade has forced PR into newer areas of communication, and now there really is no distinction between ‘traditional PR’ and social media; they are simply two sides of the same coin.”

Victoria Leyton: “As the originators of good, newsworthy ideas, by default PROs have now become content owners and effectively act as ringmasters in a multi-channel circus. Having so many different ways to amplify a message and communicate with people relies on working with a lot of different marketing teams within a business that often have very different objectives and measures for success.”

Emily Anderson: “One of the main challenges for younger people in PR (especially in this economy) is the competitiveness at our level. Everyone is trying to impress and get ahead so you have to be on your game and up to speed with the latest social media, best event venues and latest trends in the industry.”

Key skills you need

Ruth Follows: “Over the last five years, four core skills have been vital: writing; building relationships; creativity; and planning and organisation. Recognising weaknesses, especially in these areas, is important. Young professionals should capitalise on their hunger to learn by taking training opportunities and digesting advice.”

Richard Hanney: “From my experience, a key learning curve has been zoning in to the specific demands of individual clients, and then tailoring work accordingly – what works for one may not for another. Like everything, being given good training, internally and externally, is really important.”

Why it is a plus to be young

Daniel Rolle: “Those entering the industry at an early stage in their career are best placed to help shape companies’ strategies and response to a vastly altered communications environment. The agencies I've worked for have all found ways to empower their younger members of staff – their digital natives – to make sure they are able to innovate ahead of the competition.”

Ruth Follows: “An adaptability and ability to spot new trends and entrench them in practice can enthuse young professionals, giving confidence in their ability to develop into the heads of PR of the future. What’s more, in your 20s, you aren’t pigeonholed, so you can gain experience across different sectors and choose your specialism. That freedom also allows you to find your passion and decide your future.”

Why it is a minus to be young

Gemma Mejer: “If I’m honest I haven’t received any prejudice from clients or from journalists since being in PR. I’m under 30, look young and have bright, blonde hair. Sad to say, where I have felt discriminated against is at PR events and seminars attended by older professionals. Opinions and views are looked down upon because we haven’t been in the industry long enough and conversations are purposely led towards answers that us young PROs are unable to answer. But being in PR and being under 30 is only tough if you let it be.”

Ruth Follows: “In some agencies and large organisations, you may struggle to gain recognition for your business acumen, your authority of opinion, or your ideas. But by developing your core skills and becoming better at communicating with senior management, you’ll see more responsibility landing at your feet.”

How I see the future of PR

Emily Anderson: “I believe that the PR industry will continue to change in terms of the way we interact with social media. A few years ago no one used Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook to engage, and now all three are central to the campaigns we run promoting our clients’ messages. Our clients are also looking for a more holistic service, so there is a far greater crossover in the work we do across all areas of the agency, and I believe this will continue.”

Gemma Mejer: “I hope for a future where everyone understands the value or PR and what we do. Most people don’t understand my job they just see it as ‘something to do with the media’.”

PRmoment Awards 2019