OK – they didn’t actually say that – but the latest issue of PR Week contains a number of articles, which, taken together, paint a rather gloomy picture of the UK PR industry and its future.
First up, a survey of junior PR folk, conducted in December 2006, showed that a "staggering" (PR Week’s own word) 80pc of them were planning to leave the industry within 10 years. 15pc said they would get out after only 1 or 2 years, with 32pc saying they’d exit in 2 – 5. A further 27pc said they might remain in PR for between 5 and 10 years.
PRCA director-general Patrick Barrow argues that this is a "social trend" ie PR is not the only sector to suffer from a lack of long term career interest among the younger workforce. But he then goes on to concede that the traditional PR agency model puts "disproportionate pressure on those at the bottom of the heap." (A curious use of words – it immediately conjured up an image of poor Oliver Twist PR types scrabbling around for scraps asking for "more "while their cold hearted bosses told them to work harder for less…).
In another feature, 30 year old B-M veteran Adam Lewis admitted he had seriously considered leaving the industry early his career: "At a junior level, PR can be tough: development paths are blurred and is heavy on admin compared with the hand-holding and structure you find in professions such as law and management consultancy." (I like Adam’s diplomacy – development paths are blurred = training and development are non existent).
And then Firefly Chief Exec Claire Walker says: "There is a dearth of good people out there. We’re suffering a real skills shortage in PR."
PR Week then chip in with a further a piece about the recent introduction of Employment Equality Regulations : "Middle Management level PRs – average age 35 and 41 for consultancy and in-house staff respectively – are those most likely to quit their jobs in the next 2 to 3 years."
This article also shows PR agencies as the biggest culprits in terms of breaking the rules on ageist job ads. According to Neville Price at recruitment firm Price Trace Hawes: "Ignorance of the regulations is not a defence. I suspect there is an attitude problem with consultancies thinking they can either just get away with it, or assuming the legislation does not apply to them for whatever reason."
So if we join the dots here, what conclusions can we draw?
First, if the head of a major PR industry trade body likens the agency model to a dog eat dog rubbish tip, is it any wonder "those at the bottom of the heap" aren’t going to stick around.
Second – who will actually be left to do any PR if middle managers and junior staff don’t intend to stick around in the business. And simply ignoring employment law in order to hire more junior fodder for the meat grinder isn’t going to work either. Will senior level execs want to get their hands dirty in doing the real grunt work – well, they might have to if there is nobody left to do it for them.
Not a happy picture – or, perhaps, for the apparently dwindling band of experienced folk who are still around, perhaps we can hoover up the work that’s left by everyone else jumping the ship?