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Communications Week London: Meeting the Needs of Next Gen Talent

On an otherwise dreary Wednesday evening in central London, Chancery Lane WeWork played host to the first ever London Communications week event. A crowd of media, marketing, PR, communication and HR professionals gathered in to shelter from the rain and pick the brains of industry professionals who shared their expertise in how to satisfy the ever changing needs of the PR workforce of the future.

The inaugural Comms Week London event saw panelists Alexandra North, Senior PR Account Manager at Luminous PR, Francis Ingham, Director General of the PRCA and Chief Executive, ICCO, Alex Lewington, Chairman, PRCA Recruiters Forum and Head of PR & Communications Recruitment, Reuben-Sinclair and George Blizzard, Co-Founder, The PR Network and mentoring programme lead, Women in PR UK, engage in lively debate about the changing nature of the PR industry and how it must adapt in order to accommodate the needs of the next generation.

The conversation, led by Kite Hill’s own UK VP Tom Kirkham, touched upon the many challenges the industry faces drawing in new talent, with panellists in agreement that attracting new talent is the number one issue we face.

Lewington began by talking about the Catch 22 situation young people face trying to break into the industry, forever being asked to demonstrate prior experience to gain entry-level roles. She dispelled the stereotype that millennials are work shy, noting that they often take on internships for little or no pay simply to gain a footing on the career ladder. Ingham reinforced this point, telling the audience that, “We don’t pay PRs enough,” with young people regularly putting in long hours without reward or recognition.

Kirkham relayed an anecdote about once receiving a CV that read, “It has been my dream to work in PR since the age of 10,” asking the panelists to ponder the reason why, for most, PR is something we are unaware of when first considering career direction. Lewington made the ironic observation that “PR is not well publicised,” provoking a discussion about the ways in which the industry could be introduced to talent at a much younger age through the education system. By increasing the visibility of PR and ensuring that young people understand it to be a viable option from early on, PR could become a more established career choice as opposed to something that most simply “fall into.”

With inner city living costs continuing to rise, the panel discussed the benefits of flexible working and remote agencies. Instead of reinforcing the idea that career progression lies within the capital city, Blizzard reminded us that, “Young people moving away from London is a good thing for clients... It offers that diversity of creativity we always talk about.” Lewington responded by reminding the audience that, “Flexible working isn’t just working from home. Some people prosper by being in an office environment… We need flexibility on both sides”. On this point, North spoke of her “communication rituals” for remote working, most notably, remembering to check in with co-workers and to set aside time in the day for team activities. Ultimately the panelists agreed that the agencies best placed to meet future needs will be the ones that actively listen and offer working solutions that adapt to fit the requirements of each individual.

Next, the panel touched upon the importance of social purpose and the way young people now, more than ever before, want to work somewhere that makes a positive contribution. Ingham reminded the audience that although PR sometimes gets a bad press, “The fall out from Bell Pottinger showed us that PR has standards and morals.”

The debate concluded by recognising that, while the industry is often associated with providing businesses with damage control, there are moral standards with which we all must comply and, where the industry demonstrates that it has principals, it continues to appeal to talent on a basic human level. Ultimately, meeting the needs of future talent means understanding that circumstances and context are ever-changing. If our industry shows a willingness to change with the times, it will continue to grow more appealing to young people.