Does PR *really* have an age problem?

So this PR Moment article drops into my inbox with the title, ‘Does PR have an age problem?’

Saved that for a weekend read, after my first impression was that it’d be telling a story of how hard it is for young people to get into the profession, with too many chasing far too few entry-level jobs.

The weekend has come and gone; I’ve read Daney Parker’s article leading off with Darryl Sparey’s analysis, and boy, was my assumption wide of the mark!  Quoting from the 2017 IPA census, the article’s opening premise is that “PR is a profession that has far more than it’s fair share of younger workers.”

Darryl’s quote drawing from that survey is pretty stark, sharing that “….only 7.7% of creative and non-media agency staff are aged over 50, and just 0.8% are over 60.”

So – I’ve been reflecting on this and doing a bit of desk-based background reading.

I am left wondering if the headline matches the article, to be honest.  The survey from which the statistics come is the IPA census of its member agencies, and the IPA is the industry body for the advertising sector, not PR.  I haven’t downloaded the full survey results, as they are £25 to non-IPA members like me, to see if it really does address PR rather than advertising, but it would seem not from the open source excerpts.

I had a quick look instead at the 2019 CIPR State of the Profession survey results, in which 23% of respondents were in the 45-54 age bracket, with a further 10% aged 55-64, and another 1% 65+.   So – even though the age brackets don’t match between CIPR and IPA surveys, the CIPR data suggests 2 or quite possibly 3 times the proportion of over 50s working in PR than the advertising sector – and that is interesting in and of itself for sister professions.

I’d be intrigued to see if anyone else has any research or analysis on this situation, as I know my reading round the subject has only scratched the surface.

It did though make me reflect that the leadership (in the wider sense) of my professional body is pretty unrepresentative of the wider profession in age terms.  I’m a member of CIPR’s Council, and just thinking back to our last meeting, I hesitate to try to age profile us as a group, beyond pondering that there weren’t many younger faces.

Now this is almost certainly inevitable, and not even intrinsically wrong.  The leaderships of professional membership bodies are going to tend to be more established practitioners – we are more settled, perhaps feel we have gathered more experience we have a duty to share, and are more likely to be more senior and therefore more able to spend the day in London at a meeting.  Without beating ourselves up over any under-representation in this particular regard, it has started me wondering whether to properly lead the body, we don’t need to find some other way of better hearing the voice and understanding the lived experience of our younger members.

The under-representation of BME members of the wider profession is another stark issue, and its great that the Taylor Bennett Foundation is doing such great work in helping address this, though this shouldn’t allow us in CIPR to sub-contract that responsibility.

There’s also a really interesting debate to be had about the over-representation in PR in relation to class.  Whatever proxy measure you care to use to measure it – whether you went to a fee paying school or not, how much your parents earned when you were 14, or how you self-define now as an adult, class is another of those tricky issues that we probably all know is a factor in inequality of opportunity – even if that is just down to the obvious who has parents rich enough to support them in entering the profession through unpaid internships.

In a roundabout way therefore this article has helped me begin to focus on the challenge of how the industry body I give a big chunk of my time to as a volunteer – the CIPR – needs to change so as to better represent the industry.

Plus it’s reminded me that as a 51 year old high-earning white bloke who as a kid went (albeit on a scholarship) to a fee paying school founded in 1407, it’s never not a good time to reflect on my own privilege.

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