Because sometimes age beats youth…

There was a flurry of interest earlier this year in the CIPR survey which revealed that although PR is a largely female-dominated industry,  fewer women than men occupy really senior positions.  I’m getting interested in another nugget of information buried in the survey – the age profile of PRs with in-house roles compared to freelancers.

Apparently “by far the greatest percentage (50%) of in-house … members are aged between 25 and 34. Practitioners aged 45-60 significantly dominate the freelance sector, with 51% of freelancers within this age range.” 

That feels perfectly understandable.  PR is a discipline that suits freelancing brilliantly.  Armed with a laptop, a broadband connection and a mobile you can work when and where you want – a  boon for women juggling work and childcare.  I’m starting to think that there may be a more sinister element to this, though I could just be paranoid.

There have always been rumours that recruitment consultancies don’t take candidates in their 40s seriously.  My experience and that of friends and contemporaries certainly seems to  bear that out at the moment.  I apply for the occasional interim job to mix it up with the freelancing.  Rather than being proud of the 20+ years on my CV and the huge range of experience that I can offer an employer, I’m starting to wonder what I can cut so that I don’t end up on the she’s-older-than-God pile before I have  chance to talk to them.  Are there so many freelancers  over 40  because we can’t get anything more permanent?

Ironically, being 40+ should be an advantage these days.  As the population ages communicators need to reach a mature and media-savvy audience which won’t accept being patronised or pigeonholed.  I’m doing some work at the moment for a client who’s putting together a health campaign aimed at people over 55.  They have smart campaigning ideas, a track record in generating fantastic creative work and great technical expertise in delivery, but they’re planning a campaign that risks turning off a sizeable chunk of its target audience because they don’t understand it.

I fondly remember being  27, single and childless.   I had no possible idea what it might be like to be  middle-aged, coping with children, job and mortgage, occasionally waving at my similarly harassed husband as we pass on the stairs, one to make dinner, the other to pick up a child from cubs.   I certainly had no idea  how it might feel to face getting older.     Those are increasingly common experiences.  Understanding them should be a huge advantage.  One of my industry heroines, Jilly Forster , has been stressing this point for years.  I’m watching the progress of Forster’s AGEncy with interest –  and it already seems to be paying dividends for them.  Others please note!


3 responses to “Because sometimes age beats youth…

  1. I remember reading that, as the teenage scribblers (that was our generation) shrieked in panic during Black Monday in 1987 at the realisation that it was not divinely ordained that the stock market should increase forevert,he only people keeping their heads in the City were the over-40s whom they had ridiculed as way past it, but who had experience the previous crash in 1974 and so know what to do.
    And that, in a sense, explains the age profile difference you point out. It’s not (necessarily) age discrimination so much as the question of what does an employer want from the people they employ, and what do individuals look for from their work.
    As an employer, I’ve tended to look for bright, young, enthusiastic “second-jobbers” for in-house marketing roles. They should be looking for a chance to build up their career, by seizing opportunities wherever it comes, trying out their ideas and making their mark wherever possible. If you get the right person, they’ll work hard, grab as much as they can carry and move on to a better job after a few years that have benefited themselves and their organisation. The potential for personal development makes up for the fact that these roles don’t necessarily pay that well.
    The freelancers I use tend to be older because I need someone to address a project or a problem for which we don’t have the expertise or experience in-house. Although they have no compunction about getting their hands dirty when necessary (sometimes less so than permanent employees), they’ve done the donkey work, paid their dues and don’t particularly want to keep doing so indefinitely.
    Most of those I know who are freelancers say that they are happier for it, because the variety of work is more interesting and fulfilling and it gives them a greater flexibility, that they would expect in an organisation. Although older people will have greater financial responsibilities, if they have gone freelance, they have usually accepted the ebb and flow their work will involve. The Baby-Boomer generation on the whole is less temperamentally suited to accepting life in the middle ranks of an organisation in return for long-term security if it means a growing sense of mediocrity and lack of interest.
    Perhaps the impact of the current recession will see the portfolio career become the norm for the over-50s, who will be called upon for those moments when, as the sage O’Rourke observed, age and guile beats youth and a bad haircut.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful post. I completely buy the idea that as a generation we are less inclined to settle for security than our parents’ generation was (though looking at the pensions that long years of security bought I’m starting to wonder if we’re mugs not to cling on to whatever we can find!) I’ve been building a portfolio career since the day I marched out of the civil service with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. What worries me is the sense that the in-house interim posts that used to be part of my portfolio seem no longer to be an option and I’m not sure why that is.

  3. Pingback: Riding the diversity tsunami – why a diverse workforce make business sense. | Sole Trader PR

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