2.6.09

Easing In: Is PR Getting Easier For Newbies?


I’m going to show my age here but try to resist the Monty Python ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ complex about how much harder things were ‘in my day’, but I really think things are easier for entrants into the PR industry. This is probably a good thing, by the way, if you’ll let me indulge in painful nostalgia.

I stumbled unwittingly into a PR job in 1998 and spent many an afternoon PRINTING press releases out and POSTING THEM (!). To email them would require snatching whatever you could of the Compuserve time and enduring that ever-so-90s modem dial-up tune, so printing it was, with black, dry and chipped hands by the end of it.

The other thing we had to combat was the pre-dotcom plethora of nasty journalists. And when I say ‘nasty’, I mean people that would often boast about making execs cry and calling clients directly to complain about their PR agency. Calling the press on the whole is a lot more pleasant nowadays, I’m especially impressed with the time that some regional papers have for us. There are myriad other ways to distribute press releases online, too.

Add to that the whole diminishing role of the ‘traditional media’, important though it still is of course, and the modern exec can enjoy less time pretending to have called journalists and more time doing funky stuff like designing virals and drafting heavily optimised content.

I’d like to think that training has moved on and rather than just have an account director hand you a release on your second day and go “there you go, sell it in” without even explaining what a “firewall” was, PR firms have actually worked out how to properly coach and nurture staff.

Don’t forget that many of these execs will have learned the ropes from specially designed university courses which certainly didn’t exist ‘in my day’. Hasn’t the industry come a long way in just 11 years?

I tell thee, it were reet tough. These young’uns nowadays don’t know they’re born. Is it just me or is it PR getting easier to get into?

6 comments:

  1. i think broadly, yes it is easier. As you say, there are so many courses that while heavily theory-based, also offer practical placements which add real value when entering the workplace.

    But the downside to this is that some entrants to PR have it too easy and expect to be an AM within the year. Because they don't have the rights of passage - screamed at by arsey journalist on deadline, made to pitch some accronym heavy technology nobody understands - they miss out on the PR nuances such as changing your angle mid-pitch and learning the ability to blag your way out of trouble.

    And othen of course older, more grizzled PROs resent them for their easy lives too!

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  2. "changing your angle mid-pitch and learning the ability to blag your way out of trouble"

    Why don't you get a decent story to sell in so you don't go each and every way with your 'angle' and stop 'blagging' your way out of the trouble your bargaining nature has caused?

    Thank god PR has moved on.....

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  3. Good post Chris. I tend to agree with you that PR is “easier” now than when we started…and I predate you by 4 years…but, at the risk of being oxymoronic, I think we shouldn’t confuse easy with less like hard work.

    For me, the things that were hard “back in t’day” were the mundane copying, franking and posting of press releases, the arsey journalists, the never-ending round of media tours, by-line articles, expo press packs etc.

    Basically old-skool tech PR was hard work for an Account Executive and also, sometimes a bit dull.

    Contrast that to today, when as an AE you’re expected to have the full canon of media skills AND be able to grow rapidly into a fully-rounded marketer.

    And I for one am loving it. I’ve been in the game since joining Countrywide (shortly to become Porter Novelli) in 1994 and the movement towards PR becoming a much more marketing-led discipline is as exciting now as it was writing my first press release.

    For me, the role of PR has changed fundamentally from being a means to place messages in the media to become a tool to start conversations that lead to transactions.

    For that to happen, being a good writer and having the gift of the gab are now only part of what’s required, AEs moving to SAEs and AMs need to know how to manage third party agencies, critique design briefs and haggle on quotes, advise clients on ad spend, write marketing collateral to within an inch of a client’s brief and much more besides (I haven’t even got on to new media and social media skills yet!)

    All in all, I think PR is a lot less “hard work” for a new joiner but not sure about it being “easier”, I just think the roles have changed.

    When was the last time you saw someone cutting up backing board and going outside with a copy of Microsope, a tin of spray mount and a scalpel?!

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  4. Anonymous - what is wrong with changing your angle mid-pitch, based on the direction the conversation is taking? No one is talking about going 'each and every way' with a pitch, rather taking on board what the journalist is saying and thinking on your feet to try and address that.

    I believe that is a skill well worth learning for any PR. The journalist still might not go for the story but at least it demonstrates flexibility and initiative.

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  5. @PaulieA - I couldn't agree more. @Anonymous - One example would be if you went to a publication like the BBC with a UK-specific angle and the editor said 'we have too many UK stories today; we need international angles' - instead of putting the phone down immediately the experienced PR would highlight another suitable story he/she had that day to see if it would work.

    @PaulWooding - thanks for raising a really interesting viewpoint that today's 'newbie' in PR needs a big mixed bag of skills.

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  6. Paul Wooding - quality post bringing back some painful memories. I'm sure execs do work hard still and it's credit to technology and our industry that have enabled us to bin the worst of the old practices.

    Now, can we organise a press round-table? what about hosting it at the IoD...?

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