The “Sell-By” Date No One in PR and Comms Talks About

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In Public Relations and Communication, unless you know someone who knows someone or you are so famous that everyone would jump off a cliff to have you, you do have a sell-by date.

If you’re above 35(ish), worked in a strategic role with minimal or no agency-side experience, do not have a very thick media “black book” or have one in a very specialist sector, you know a lot about how businesses are run and much more than your little world of PR and Comms, and are qualified/educated on the top of that, chances are you are rather unemployable.

The question is why?

Why would any potential employer shy away from having really good and seasoned practitioners working for them? Individuals who know their trade inside out, and always have their client’s/employer’s best interests at heart? Protecting and promoting them?

I got an e-mail the other day from a male colleague I know well. I got his permission to reproduce it below, and promised him I’ll capture his words in this blog post, hoping that many of you will read it and even more of you will provide us with your views/opinions/thoughts:

Hi Ella,

Hope everything is going well with you.

I hope you don’t mind me writing to you cold – but you’re one of the senior practitioners whose skills and knowledge I admire the most. So I wanted some advice if you’re able.

I’ve been looking for a new role for several years now (moving out from the [XXX] sector). But I’m struggling. Seriously struggling. Despite my 20 years PR experience, it seems next to impossible to persuade folks that the skills are (of course) transferable.

Recruitment agencies in particular only seem interested in my skillset should it directly match a job in [XXX] – despite telling them that I’m looking for a change outside of that sector. Despite countless job applications, I seem to rarely get selected for any interviews, and then, when it comes down to an interview, whilst every time I’ve made it through to the final selection stage, it always seems to be the other person who gets the role!

I’ve just been cracking on, applying for anything which seems suitable and then taking it as it comes – but, in all honesty, it’s starting to get me down having not managed to get another role after several years of trying.

I know the job market is tough – but this tough?!

I’m not sure what advice you might possibly have to give me, but I thought it useful to ask – as you’re both knowledgeable, and in PR terms, very much along my line of thinking.

I’d welcome any thoughts as to how to improve my prospects/likelihood of success – or indeed to identify what I might be doing wrong!

One of us

And this colleague is not alone.

Last year another male colleague was struggling badly to find a role after he had been made redundant – he was experienced, knowledgeable and professional. Thankfully, a social media contact saw my call for help and gave him a chance.

Now he is working for one of the world’s largest advanced technology companies.

We have multiple events across the industry shouting out about the “talent” that we need. If that “talent” is between 20-25 years old, a fresh graduate (or not) and someone who is generally given the lowest paid jobs in the Comms / PR chain and expected to do nothing other than “execute”, then we do need this “talent”.

But “talent”, if we are brutally honest with each other, is used in the wrong context in this entire industry narrative.

We should look at “talent” in its non-prescriptive meaning since very few people in Comms and PR possess a “natural, born with and untrained ability”. The “talent” in our line of work can hardly be compared with Beethoven’s or Michelangelo’s – theirs was the real talent, in the real meaning of the word.

We have to work and learn very hard every day to ensure that our strategies, proposals and plans make sense, lead to clearly defined objectives and have the impact desired while all risks are foreseen and, where possible, pre-empted.

The real “talent” for our line of work lies in the finesse and nuance that experience, exposure, qualifications and skills replicability can offer.

We can teach an old dog new tricks – who would you have by your side in a complex reputation, national or international issue? Who would any agency or in-house trust to advise the client rep or the CEO?

Why do age and experience become a negative factor in employing skilful practitioners and why do we always seem to try to fit people in very prescribed boxes, especially since we are the first ones to know that there is no black and white, just a lot of grey and plenty of overlapping and transferrable skills we all have?

Do we actually have a sell-by date?

Photo by Henry Majoros on Unsplash

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