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Millennials in PR and Communications: What are your young team members saying about you?

The study, by The Fairlight Project, was designed as a series of short conversations to explore the kind of experiences young people are having in the PR business, and how the industry is responding to their needs and expectations. This is against a backdrop of over 70% of PR consultancies confirming their intention to recruit junior staff last year (source: PRCA Annual Report, 2015), the dynamic of the Millennials now starting to exert major influence on the organisations they’re working in, and the PR and communications worlds having such strong associations with young people.

Young people coming into the PR industry are motivated, keen to succeed, and have the potential to become highly influential and creative members of the team. The key to developing and retaining this talent will be in managing their expectations over the pace of their career development (it’s fast), giving them clear markers and training along the way, keeping a genuinetwo-way dialogue going, and being ready to look at a new set of indicators, training and incentivesat the two year mark.

These were some of the key findings from a study designed to explore the kind of experiences young people are having in the PR business, and how the industry is responding to their needs and expectations.

Generally, most were very upbeat about the start to their PR careers. They were enjoying their work, and felt they were supported in their day-to-day roles. Responses like “supportive management”, “getting recognition for achievements”, “being given responsibility”, and “being mentored”, reflected a mainly happy and motivated young workforce, with a few huge accolades like, “the people are amazing” and “everything’s great” underscoring some really exceptional experiences.

Career progression: In a similar vein, most felt positive about career progression with their current employers, and felt they could see how they could develop their careers, predominantly with support and learning from colleagues. They did, however, shine a light on the need for more formal training, although some said that they were already benefitting from internal and external training. Where young people felt they would need to move to a different company in order to progress, this was often seen as a symptom of their current organisation not being big enough, growing fast enough, or attracting big enough client accounts to be able to support more senior workers.

Nearly all of the young PRs were intrinsically motivated to succeed in the business. Those that had a view on the subject of formal incentive schemes in their companies felt they were too remote and too “big” for junior team members, so they did not feel particularly motivated by them, or able to compete for them. They felt that smaller, short-term rewards would be more of an incentive for them.

Lack of communication: Any divergences in how they felt about their start in PR tended to focus on cultural issues, with a lack of communication being one of the main quibbles. Transparency and open employee communications through all levels of an organisation were regarded as really critical, and sometimes, less than well managed, leaving people feeling uninformed and sometimes, “very undervalued”. And as part of this theme, one respondent said, “Communicate and show appreciation – lots of it. People will do anything if they know they’re valued.”

Other issues that affect their day-to-day views of life in PR were: “how little you are briefed – you’re expected just to get on with it”, “unrealistic workloads leading to late and sleepless nights”, “pressure that leads to things being rushed”, and an “unpredictability of the workloads, which is [incongruous] for an industry that prides itself on planning”.

Going the extra mile: Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the ‘personal touch’ that had a real impacton how young people felt about their workplaces and their careers. Consultancies going the extra mile to make their people feel valued and respected, elicited comments like, “I know they respect my religious values”, “we are constantly encouraged to come up with ideas”, “healthy work/life balance is the key” and “it’s what I hoped for and more”.

In summary, the experiences that young people are having on entering the PR world seem to depend entirely on the consultancy they start in: there are very few industry norms. The questions then, are: Is this a culture that will perpetuate? Or will this Millennial, knowledge-sharing, open,learning generation change it for the future?