A recent comment by one of PR’s biggest names, Graham Goodkind, founder of Frank caught our eye.
In a short blog on PR Moment, Graham seemed to suggest that being relevant in PR is about what appeals to a youth audience.
“…you need to be able to keep abreast of popular culture today and what is happening in the world of your average 20-something……Once you switch off to what’s happening on Love Island, lose interest in popular memes on social media, or start getting concerned that TikTok is a bit stupid, then that’s the time you should probably realise that this industry is moving on quicker than you.”
His observations were perhaps seen through the lens of an agency which has many clients for whom 20-somethings are a key demographic. But PR is a much broader church and it’s not a stretch to say far more work is done in PR on campaigns where an appreciation of Love Island would be barely relevant than where it is.
For all those categories, relevance means media, social trends and behaviours which are likely to be alien to someone who inhabits a world of beautiful airheads in swimwear and TikTok (fabulous though it can be).
PR has a both a longstanding fascination with youth and a serious problem with attracting and retaining talent which is why comments from authoritative voices which equate youth with relevance are both disappointingly familiar and in themselves, disappointing.
Those two ideas are not just related, the first contributes to the second.
The PR sector seems unique in this, even amongst highly creative industries. Architects continually refer to principles and work that is centuries or decades old. The most ground-breaking artists continually re-interpret the work of old masters. Are they less creative than PR people?
In a time when the industry talks A LOT about storytelling, remember that there are only seven plots and they were all invented a long time before any of us were alive.
When will the narrative change to embracing solutions to the war for talent in PR, rather than perpetuating the outdated idea that “youth = relevance” and its consequence, ageism?
By valuing youth at a premium the industry inevitably turns away from and devalues experience and age and then wonders why the most experienced talent feels unwelcome and very often, actively shunned or discriminated against.
As an industry we seem not to have noticed that society has changed. Open the Spotify playlist of someone in their 20s and you will find music from across the decades. Had Spotify been around when today’s 50 year old was 20, you would never have found music of their parents’ generation.
This cultural blurring is everywhere, except it seems, in the talent strategies of agencies.
Traditional pyramid PR agency models with their reliance on people at the start of their careers are under pressure. Clients don’t like their work being handled by the most junior staff and they complain about rarely seeing the high-power team who won the business.
This has been true for decades, but the industry seems endlessly wedded to the idea that if only we could get some smart young people with new ideas, this problem will solve itself.
It’s not hard to see that what clients want is the most cost efficient way to access people who are both deeply experienced in their sector and focused on doing serious executional work. That combination of qualities is hard to reconcile with traditional agency structures where the more experienced you become, the less tactical execution work you do.
The solution is obvious – to adapt talent strategies to hiring PR freelancers who bring that blend of experienced heads with the emotional energy that comes with the ‘skin in the game’ that is the essence of freelance life.
The industry needs new weapons to fight the war for talent, but most of all it needs a willingness to throw out old thinking and use the tools that are emerging.