Nothing sadder than a 40-year-old PR person? I disagree

As I approach my 50th birthday, having spent more than 25 years in the marketing communications industry, working for major companies as diverse as Harrods, Warner Bros Pictures International and EMI Records, I stand at a career crossroads faced by an industry I personally feel is obsessed with youth and social media rather than years of relevant experience.

Writing is a long lost art, almost forgotten by the youthful PRs of today, argues Conor Nolan
Writing is a long lost art, almost forgotten by the youthful PRs of today, argues Conor Nolan
"There’s nothing sadder than a 40-year-old PR person," Matthew Freud famously said – well, what about one who was also formerly in the employ of Mohamed Al-Fayed for the past 12 years?

In January 2014, I found myself looking for gainful employment after Al-Fayed began winding down his business interests and what a sobering and frustrating experience it has been to date.

Along the way, I have encountered undoubtedly ageism, a messianic obsession with social media expertise, blind indifference to years of traditional experience and a complete disregard for decent, old-fashioned manners.

I am too old for what exactly? Client side? Agency? I never got an answer as you rarely get a response.

For all those recruiters, obviously a quarter of a century’s experience counts for nothing as they worship at the divine altar of social media and the bearded youth (who have universally been responsible for the decline of the Gillette brand).

So consider this when it comes to 'older' professionals like me:

1. There was no internet when I started in 1989 – it has now made so many people lazy when it comes to seeking information. Good old-fashioned research and face-to-face communication are gold dust; never forget that.

2. Social media, in all its forms, is just another tool for telling a story. Just like print and broadcast – but sexier and more instant.

3. Breadth and diversity are key: I have been volunteering for The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust for nearly a year now, helping communicate its animal welfare message to old-school outlets like the BBC, ITV and the Daily Mail, as well as to new media outlets like Huffington Post.

4. Mentoring is another good way of keeping abreast of industry developments – I mentor a wide variety of SMEs, thanks to the European Regional Development Fund.

5. Teaching, like mentoring, helps you connect with a different audience: I successfully juggled teaching university undergraduates, both PR and creative advertising, for eight years while working for Al-Fayed.

6. Finally, writing. That long, lost art, almost forgotten by the youthful PRs of today. I managed to juggle a weekly national newspaper column, two regional newspaper columns and a monthly magazine column. All while working for Al-Fayed.

As for the future, I have been offered a place at Kingston University to do a masters in marketing communications and advertising, starting in September.

And I have begun work on my memoirs, entitled A Very Unexpected Journey.

Age should be no barrier in this industry – a lesson younger recruiters should be mindful of when receiving a CV from someone of my advancing years.

Conor Nolan is a brand and communications strategist with 25 years’ experience in luxury retail and entertainment

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