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The PR demographic timebomb

Two years ago, I posted a note about a survey of junior PR folk, conducted in December 2006, that showed a “staggering” (PR Week’s own word) 80pc of them were planning to leave the industry within 10 years. 15pc said they would get out after only 1 or 2 years, with 32pc saying they’d exit in 2 – 5. A further 27pc said they might remain in PR for between 5 and 10 years.

At the time, PRCA director-general Patrick Barrow also conceded that the traditional PR agency model puts “disproportionate pressure on those at the bottom of the heap.”

In that same post, I quoted survey results that showed that middle management level PRs – average age 35 and 41 for consultancy and in-house staff respectively – were those most likely to quit their jobs in the next 2 to 3 years.

In the light of the kerfuffle over Dennis Howlett’s recent Nietzschean style “PR is dead” post, I was wondering if there was any more recent data on any of the above. If that first survey was correct, we should already have seen 15pc of the recruits from 2006 exiting the industry. I haven’t seen any figures to suggest any decline in the numbers of PRs employed – so either the exodus never happened or the 15pc have simply been replaced with a new crop of joiners. Clearly the disproportionate pressures on those at the bottom are set to rise in the current economic environment. Overservicing is rife and will no doubt be further exacerbated. Which suggests perhaps that more young PR folk are likely to jump the ship. And has there been an exodus of 35 – 41 year olds in the last two years?

If experience and expertise are needed to solve Dennis Howlett’s problems with PR, then we can only hope the demographic trends revealed in these surveys two years ago are going to go in reverse.

2 replies on “The PR demographic timebomb”

I’m not actually sure that asking someone their career plans is a reliable guide to what will actually happen. To use myself as an example: when I joined IBM in 1973, I thought I might be there for maybe four years, and that’s how I would have answered a survey. I stayed 25.

Given the current financial situation, it is only the creative, talented and confident people who are likely to grasp the nettle and move jobs or change career direction. And that’s only a small percentage of any population….



Let’s hope the industry is changing. I am 40 and returned to the agency side 3 years ago after becoming bored silly with in-house politics, growing fearful of losing touch with my external network and having my skills become dated. Okay, I also got really tired of working in soulless office parks in places like Staines and Burnham. I nearly regretted this decision after my last job confirmed that little had changed in the traditional pyramid-shaped agency model that inevitably leads to mindless execution causing stress, shame, fear, misery, guilt, self-loathing, colleague loathing, client loathing and a poor wage and benefits packet just to complete the insult.

My current employer saved me this hell by putting me in charge of its European operation and letting me run it they way I saw fit, which was not by creating the pyramid and asking the junior people to do all the hard jobs, like pitching in complicated stories to grumpy, harried journalists. I do quite a lot of media relations myself as does our CEO.

The PR agencies of the future will truly be consultancies in some cases ‘teach clients to fish so that they can eat for life’ rather than doing all the legwork. It might mean that we don’t have lots of long term retainers, but I have recently discovered that high-value projects give a much better return than long-term chronically overserviced retainers. There are lots of companies out there hungry to learn how to build a PR strategy, train in-house staff, understand how social media works, learn how to implement global processes for news distribution and so on. Consultancies with the talent to offer these services will command higher fees and respect and stand to offer a much more rewarding job experience for staff at all levels.

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