Youth, experience can both be served in digital PR era

My 70-year-old father is Twittering with all the gusto of a PR blogger. He puts me to shame with my own sparse efforts, as he tweets about hobbies, my mother, the grandchildren, the dog, the past, and what fresh hell he's hearing on the nightly news.

My 70-year-old father is Twittering with all the gusto of a PR blogger. He puts me to shame with my own sparse efforts, as he tweets about hobbies, my mother, the grandchildren, the dog, the past, and what fresh hell he's hearing on the nightly news. It is also the parental newsfeed, a source of information for whoever logs on.

So now I know – Twitter truly is for everyone. It's a timely reminder. As the PR industry continues to react to or prepare for further economic roiling, some of the chatter has turned to the composition of the workforce. As social media has become ubiquitous, not to mention an irreplaceable component of overall strategy, the need for talent with a digital skill set has never been greater. As layoffs are starting to be more commonly reported in the agency and corporate PR ranks, it is important to consider the balance of talent, experience, and vision of the industry's future.

After the dot-com bubble burst, the PR industry, particularly on the agency side, laid off sizable numbers of entry-level and junior staffers. The proliferation of dot-com business had attracted a huge community of this younger generation into the profession, and almost as quickly ushered them out. Around 2004 and 2005, the profession began to suffer from a severe shortage of mid-level people, mainly because the pipeline had been so radically depleted.

Now the emergence of social media and digital platforms has served as a new pipeline for great younger and mid-level talent, even from other marketing disciplines. A possible concern in this downturn, however, is that we might see the opposite situation emerge, whereby more senior talent will be perceived as increasingly expendable, while (often) cheaper, digital natives can not only do a lot of the new media work that is currently on the table, but will not be confined to one or just a few parts of the business, as they largely were in the dot-com bubble. One agency leader even intimated to me recently that, while cuts were happening across the demographic board, there is a sense of urgency to keep enough young pros on board to service the clients who demand social media expertise.

But if that view were to seriously take hold, the profession might find itself, in better times, with a shortage of senior counselors who have taken the hint and gone off to launch their own firms, retire, or launch a social media brand of their own. The point isn't to favor one demographic group over another, but to endeavor to take the long view and see a future in which the trendy digital era will be fully integrated and value will come from striking the best balance between tactics and strategic counsel.

Julia Hood is publishing director of PRWeek.

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