Updated: Dec 16, 2020
This week, PR Week UK launches their 30 under 30 project to showcase, yes, you guessed it, 30 of the most up and coming PR professionals under 30. The criteria? You have to be under 30. Of course. In this post today, we celebrate the over 40s (even if no one else will) still in PR, still cutting it and still leading the way.
I came officially into PR late in life, you could say.
As a journalist with a past in delivering a British voice on current affairs to an overseas audience (back in the day when deadlines couldn’t be scheduled to send at a reasonable hour,) I had come in hard-nosed, serious and as tight as The Beatles in Hamburg. PR for me meant sweaty palms, long train journeys for 20 minute meetings and achingly perfect handwriting. The industry, my friends was hard. It still is, but us 40 somethings had to do everything manually in those days. When we were under 30. These days, you can click, swipe and tap your way to the (almost) the top. Then, it was hard graft, wrist ache and regular trips to Timpsons.
I am all for celebrating the next generation of PR-ettes. The world in this industry changes daily and you have to either keep up or stand out or fall out. For me, in my late forties, I aimed for the latter, made it my own and ran with it. I am still running.
So what have I learned in this business over the last 20 years? For me, the barriers between PR and Marketing have melted considerably. There is probably more confusion around these days about what is PR and what is Marketing in the boardroom. I have seen, and still continue to see, businesses fall into the trap of cutting back on their hard-working PR and Marketing teams in the hope they will save some cash. In these days of uncertainty (and believe me chaps, it doesn’t get more worrying than right now. Even the crash was better than this. I know, I was there,) anything you can shrewdly do for next to nothing, counts.
We are all looking for the next big bang moment. PRs are hungry to find that all elusive great idea that will push their client/employer out of the window and into the laps and clammy hands of their target audience without so much as dipping into the petty cash tin. The ideas are there. They truly are. As Bob Proctor once said, nothing is being done in the world now that can’t be done better in the future (the future being Monday lunchtime.)
The only thing PRs like me have against them, often, is age. But clients want experience? Ah, that comes with age though. That’s the catch. Oh yes, and then there are our salaries. This is usually the point when there is some mild fainting in the offices of HR. Balance sheets are re-read and sums revised. Surely we don’t need a PR? Sure! Because only the Spice Girls need PR. Only an MP needs pubic relations. Right? Wrong.
There is still a worrying attitude that PR is a luxury that only the multi-million pound empires can afford. Many of us who have been churning out careers in the media one way or another will argue that it’s a vital piece of the jigsaw. Companies can do without PR as much as they can do without sales. But when the general focus is on fresh-faced under grads with that smell of new shoes about them, the hardest teachers who will tell you exactly how it is, are the over 40’s. The elder PR-ites who have spilt blood and trod in the footsteps of the media, once bustled their way through the crowds with spiral notepads and damp rain coats simply to get their client in the front of the man with the money. There is a knack of elbowing that is probably not needed anymore.
The most extraordinary people I have ever worked with in the media – across the press, TV, celebrity and radio broadcasting are the 40 somethings. There is something confident about them, often a glint in the eye and an assuring quality, about themselves. You will get a straight answer out of them simply because somewhere along the line, that was their mistake or their trip up too.
They dusted off the years from their pin stripes and got back in the saddle. There is an outer coating which shows they have worked all the angles. They can take products and turn them to a whole new audience. They have seen that changing the colour tint in a bill poster will get another 3000 sales. They have debated and argued the mechanics of their profession. Learned from their even elders and caught the right buses. That comes with years which can’t be brought with a mortar board and red ribboned certificate.
When I meet an under 30 in PR, I smile. I think about what it was to at that age. Then I remember the knocks life has dealt me. The trying to bring up a family amongst a sea of paperwork and calls. The projects cut short. The late night meetings which inspire and create people who fire you along which don’t for one reason or another get signed off.
It is all part of the learning curve. I embrace the next generation but I also bow low to the ground for mine and the one before it. The crafters who set in stone what the young things now are being guided from. Celebrate the under 30s, Hell yes.
But let’s not forget the men and women who make that field possible and still lead the way.