PR’s demographic timebomb

My colleague Emma Sinden blogged about the way that the PR industry is losing women who want to start families, which got me thinking about where the future of the PR industry is likely to come from.
PR demographic timebomb
The problem isn’t only about women leaving the industry, however I’d recommend that you read Emma’s post to get the full skinny on it.  There are a number of other demographic factors in play that may not get the same consideration, but are likely to affect the industry just as deeply.

PR has a diversity problem in terms of both social background and ethnicity that some like the Taylor Bennett Foundation are trying to address, but this is going to take years. But how can a PR industry address all aspects of society if it fails to understand them sufficiently? Whilst men represent over 70 per cent of the people listed in last year’s PR Week Power Book as the leadership in the industry, the PR industry is failing to attract men into the industry in the first place.

Despite the high percentage of male PR practitioners on social media, PR degree courses in the UK and US attract about 90 per cent women. Like diversity in social background and ethnicity how can these women have a sufficient understanding of likely male audiences? Contrary to what my female peers may think, I don’t think they can; just as in the same way I can’t understand the full ins-and-outs of life as mother. How do we attract more men into the industry?

Lastly there is a bleed in talent in the PR industry (at least in the UK agency world). Social is an important part of public relations, but you have a bleed of the most talented in the industry towards media planning, search marketing, word-of-mouth marketing and digital creative agencies. Whilst the PR industry does gain from the occasional influx of journalists, they won’t bring the necessary skill sets and expertise that the industry is losing to other sectors.

This one is probably going to be the most difficult one to deal with, having spoken with friends who’ve made the move; I’ve come to the conclusion that all but the biggest agencies in the PR industry is losing an arms race in terms of:

  • Investment in tools
  • Ability to learn from other marketing disciplines
  • Larger client budgets
  • Salary inflation driven by other disciplines looking to expand into PR-related areas

In one or two notable cases, this seemed to be exasperated by appalling people management skills and job market myopia exhibited by some agencies. And whilst, I’d agree this looks like it has all the indications of a temporary employment bubble (like technology PRs in the late 90s); I still think that attempts at emotional blackmail through guilt transference and employee humiliation aren’t likely to succeed as talent retention techniques. Instead, it just gives the management involved a tarnished reputation that may leave them unemployable in the future.

As one graduate recently said to me the juniors of today are the seniors of tomorrow.

All together, these factors are likely to come together as a perfect storm for PR agency bosses and HR staff. It’s time to think about creative solutions before this all hits home forcefully.