Dr Heather Yaxley discussed her doctoral research into careers in public relations with Philippe Borremans for the Wag the Dog podcast on 6 September. Here’s our summary.
Her starting point is that ‘so many people make career decisions based on gut instinct rather than planning.’ Yet we’re not going back to the ‘Mad Men era’ of hierarchical career ladders.
‘Most of us have organic and messy careers, yet we still speak the language of career ladders and ‘getting to the top’.
‘Most people in comms work in relatively small teams or organisations. But we’re still stuck in the large organisation mentality.’
Public relations offers opportunities for flexibility (if you are in a position to take this up). Some choose to continue horizontally (as communication specialists) rather than to progress vertically into general management.
‘We need to have a better understanding of the scope of PR careers and how we can develop them.’
‘Fewer and fewer people have an exclusive career in-house or in agencies. There’s a lot of fluidity in people’s careers.’
‘There’s a huge emphasis on the individual, but what’s missing is the collective picture (how we work in networks).’ The film industry model was cited by way of examples: teams of specialists coming together to work on projects, then disbanding, and sometimes choosing to work together again..
‘Work is important, but it’s not everything. We’re not wedded to the job. What is full-time? 24/7 is not possible. There is a need for balance, for turning off. We’re not all free to travel all the time.’
There’s a need for customised careers rather than forcing people to fit into a culture.
Mobile technology has enabled people to get away from the desks. But what are the rules? What’s being done about mental health and mental wellbeing?
‘HR functions really don’t understand public relations and the nature of the work. There’s a lack of recognition of the expertise required. How to identify the core skills? Global Alliance competency project should help with this.’
There’s a richness and variety of opportunities within PR (from party planning to management functions). It’s a changing beast that can be all things to all people.
Few people take the time to stop and think about their careers. People are opportunistic. What’s the plan? How to avert a crisis situation?
Yaxley called for a new cadre of proactive and reflective practitioners.
In response to Heather Yaxley's challenge, here are some fragments of reflection on my thirty years in PR (writes Richard Bailey).
It's easy to find a retrospective narrative to make sense of our careers (I sometimes cite a horoscope produced on a 1980s dot matrix printer that predicted I'd make my living out of writing or teaching. Teacher, publisher, journalist, editor, public relations consultant, university lecturer... Was this prophetic or has it become a self-fulfilling prophesy?)
Take three moments of jeopardy in my career. What help was there but gut instinct and faith in the future?
Richard Bailey is editor of PR Place. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.