Diversification and the lost generation of PR

By Amy Airey,

There was an era when media relations was at the heart of PR. It defined PR. PR could quite easily have stood for press relations.

But there’s been a seismic, and industry-changing, shift, and it’s really quite exciting. Don’t get me wrong, media relations is crucial and, nine times out of ten, will form part of a comms response, but when thinking about how to directly target (and engage with) your audiences, surely other channels will now take priority? And when looking at the media landscape and dwindling readership then it becomes quite clear that ‘traditional PR’ alone just won’t cut it anymore. How could it?!?

But what does this mean for the generation of account managers/account directors who ‘grew up’ (in a professional sense) in a traditional press office? What happens to them if they’re not willing (or able) to embrace the uncertainty of social media algorithms, if they don’t understand digital PR, if they still think rate cards/cm2 come into play in PR evaluations? And if they think search is linked to looking back in the archives for an old press release?

And what does it mean for ‘PR’ agencies? There are still some out there that don’t manage social in-house, and still clients who separate their PR and social briefs (which is just as bizarre). It feels as though the whole industry’s being flipped on its head, with the flipping due to continue for the foreseeable, and it’s going to be a case of sink or swim.

This change in the industry is naturally being reflected in the sought-after skill sets of new recruits. If you’re not active on social and don’t have understandings of different channels, you might as well forget it. Broadcast and multimedia experience is a benefit.

But PR experience?

Well many employers can probably over look that if you’re proven to be digitally savvy… but are universities changing their modules and teaching practice in response to the monumental changes in the industry? How could they possibly, with the red tape they need to get through? So are we just relying on the next generation of PR to have been taught an outdated practice? Or perhaps it will be the case that the proportion of people having done PR/comms related degrees (or degrees at all) will continue to decrease.

And, at the other end of the spectrum, are we going to have a group of middle-aged people who are missing an entire skill set that’s crucial for the future of the industry? Or is there a way to teach these 30/40-somethings, this lost generation, a new language? A whole new test, learn, refine approach to comms?

From an agency perspective, more and more companies are choosing to diversify and adopt integration more, which is a sure sign of things to come.

Even if agencies aren’t ‘full-service’ or don’t proclaim themselves as integrated, they might have some in-house design resource – because everything needs to look the part, and some digital/development expertise – because they might need to build things to push out on social and encourage publications to link back to.

This is yet another sign that the skill sets they’ll be seeking from new recruits won’t be the same as they have been over the last few years. That’s certainly the case with us at ilk – the typical account exec/account manager job specs are a million miles away from what they once were. And, in terms of upskilling, teaching a social mastermind how to run a press office is an easier feat than vice versa (trust me, this is based on experience) so the type of people the industry needs is changing, and quite dramatically at that.

There might be more questions than answers here at the moment, but that seems to be the very nature of the challenge we face on a daily basis as comms professionals. And, to be honest, it’s an exciting challenge to face! And it might encourage those that aren’t up to it to re-think their career choices.

The question isn’t whether PR has its part to play; that’s never in doubt, it’s whether everyone’s up for embracing the changes that are happening, and will continue to do so, in order for the industry to flourish. And, more importantly, in order for us to keep delivering tangible results for our clients, to ensure future buy in. After all, that’s why we do what we do, right?

Amy Airey is PR Director at ilk.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Leave a Reply