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Is PR growing up?

Do you think of PR as a young person’s game? Then think again! Although in the past this may have been the case… As Steve Earl, managing director of PR agency Zeno Group says: “When I started in PR, people tended to see it as a younger person’s job, and fewer people stayed in it once their hair started going grey. Mine started doing that in my late 20s, so I soldiered on!”

Earl continues, saying that the evolution of PR beyond media relations has helped to create more diverse career paths for people into their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. “If you have a couple of decades of experience, you’ll have witnessed the transition from a Fleet-Street-led media environment to the two-way street of digital formats, and the rise of genuine engagement, meaning you’ll probably have a more rounded perspective on how media works and how best to work with it.”

With maturity comes experience and the main skill that middle-aged communicators seem to have that younger ones can lack, says Earl is just that – communications. “Ironic, but too many younger PROs are light on basic listening and conversation skills.”

Of course there are some drawbacks of growing older (please email me if you want a list!), but there is no reason why maturity should hold you back in PR. The first two case studies suggest a few of the benefits of age in PR, whilst the third lists some of the drawbacks of youth.

Case studies

It’s good to be older in PR (if you have passion)
Mark Pinsent, managing director, Europe of communications agency The Hoffman Agency: “I’m not a big believer in age being a limit to the value of anyone’s contribution, young or old. But I would say that. I’m 47.

“Attitude beats age every time. Are you still curious? Do you still want to learn? Sure, teaching younger PR executives is still an important part of a senior professional’s role, but if you’re blinkered to also learning from them and others, then you’ll soon lose relevance. Yes, of course, longevity in your career brings valuable experience and knowledge, but it can also mean a traditional perspective on PR, a resistance to change, a reluctance to fly far from the nest you’re feathered…

“There are plenty of valuable roles for the over-40s in PR. From planning to creative, to business management and client services, nothing’s off the agenda. Just do it with energy, passion, and a sense of fun and there’s no reason why you should even think about quitting.”

Older does mean wiser in PR
Claire Walker, CEO of agency Firefly Communications: “Age is a state of mind. I’ve employed 20-year-olds that behave more like 40-year-olds, and 40-year-olds that behave like teenagers. The danger of being the ‘older person’ in the workforce is the temptation to demean yourself and play up to it, pretending to be out of touch, immune or unaware of the technological revolution going on in the PR industry. Aim to be the wise old owl offering sage advice, not the old git who can’t keep up. Is it a blessing or a curse to be 20 years older than everyone else in the room, including your clients? I see it as a blessing, but I work hard to make sure my contributions are based on experience and are completely relevant to today’s world. And whilst I know enough, I don’t pretend to know more than my younger colleagues about amplification strategies through social media networks and other digital avenues their generation grew up with.

“At an executional level, PR might come across as a young person’s game, however being older can bring more gravitas and self-confidence. Older PROs have more experience around strategic, planning and executional challenges. It may mean that the older person has the 25-year-old friendship with the journalist who is the editor-in-chief of a national newspaper. But any older PR person needs to respect themselves and what they offer, and make themselves current and relevant in today’s world of communication. Embrace social media, make the effort to research and understand how new tools work, accept that there are better, faster more efficient and effective ways to achieve a good result. And even the perception of what is ‘a good result’ may also have changed. Times change very fast indeed and these days backlinks are a great result.”

How young PROs get overlooked
Stephanie Mullins, account manager at agency BlueSky PR: “We’re always hearing stories about ageism in PR – people in their 50s and 60s struggling to find work because they’re approaching retirement age and employers don’t want to hire them – but it works the other way around too.

“I’m 25 and, whilst I might look youthful, I don’t class myself as young. Some people think that looking youthful and energetic is beneficial in the world of PR, this isn’t always the case. Questions about my background often feel like a request to justify my abilities, and stereotypes about younger generations being ‘lazy’ don’t help either.

“It’s wearing to think that people might not take you as seriously because you look young. Working hard and being good at your job should be enough. Someone double my age with half the experience certainly shouldn’t be preferable. Sure, at 25 I’m not the most qualified person out there, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know what I was doing.”

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