Opinion: Are you prepared to put the age in agency?

There'll be a few more grey hairs in the PR industry in a few weeks' time, courtesy of the new age-discrimination legislation - and I don't necessarily mean new hires.

As if the outlawing of the word ‘young' in ads for PR folk wasn't enough, apparently workers could win the right to stay in their jobs past the age of 65, courtesy of two pending court cases in which it is claimed that the compulsory retirement age breaches the EU Directive.

I'm probably being ageist by even suggesting that the idea of an office full of octo­genarian PR professionals would be a nightmare for the average consultancy head or director of communications.

Don't get me wrong, I am fullyin support of the legislation. I was once introduced at a conference as a doyenne of PR, which gave me quite a turn. And I confess to ­finding the idea of a 19-year-old magistrate positively frightening. However, I have spent the past ten years recruiting reporters and ­editors, a process that has made me well aware of the intense pressures to favour youth in the ­media environment.

It is partly a matter of cost, of course, but also of culture. This is an intensive environment in which to work, and you need considerable resources of energy to generate enough news to feed the ­monster ­created by new media - the kind of energy people possess naturally in their 20s, but which requires an intra­venous caffeine supply for most in their 40s. Hence the tendency for more experienced journalists to gravitate towards the less high octane but increas­ingly dominant (in the print media at least) areas of comment and analysis.

To a great extent, PR and communication teams have tended to develop along similar lines. Media relations has ­become the entry-level discipline in many agencies and in-house teams, with senior ­players graduating to more strategic and less ­frenetic roles.

Of course, the model varies according to discipline. Senior City PR people regularly talk to their ­august counterparts in the media, while in much of the consumer arena the emphasis is firmly on youth on both sides of the fence. In a way, the matchmaking system works; PROs and media speak the same language and are operating within the same frame of references. But for how much longer?

If both parties stick to the letter of the law, the age demographics of media teams will be far harder to predict and mirror when building a PR team. And we all know how painful and humiliating badly managed encounters between youth and experience can be in the media relations game - particularly for the PRO.
kate.nicholas@haynet.com

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