Industry reaches out to the young

More PR students than ever are finding employment soon after graduating. David Quainton reports on what the trade bodies are doing for young talent

It is almost 12 months since the CIPR achieved chartered status, heralded as a coming of age for the industry. And this week the trade body announced that 77 per cent of PR graduates head straight into full-time PR jobs. Timely, then, to visit the CIPR's Young Communicator Conference to assess what the CIPR and PRCA are doing to help the industry's young blood.

The event involves just under 100 keen-as-mustard undergraduates and recent graduates, who are spending a day in Bristol learning the ropes.

Delegates are overwhelmingly female – only nine men were present, highlighting an age-old industry imbalance. The CIPR's latest survey showed more than 80 per cent of PR graduates are female – and neither the PRCA or CIPR seems to be doing anything about it.

The PRCA admits it has 'no initiatives or activities' designed to redress the balance. Equally, the CIPR's head of PR and marketing Ann Mealor says it isn't a problem it would be addressing any time soon.

'We focus on attracting more professional and qualified PROs,' she says. 'Men seem to join the industry later on. Our male membership is around 40 per cent.' But that figure looks unlikely to rise, if the Young Communicator event is anything to go by.

That said, the CIPR's attempt to attract talent seems to be working. Former Sunday Express and Sunday Mirror editor Eve Pollard kicked things off, ruminating over how PR executives are 'more professional these days'. Certainly the attendees seemed enthusiastic, engaging in discussion and attentive throughout the day. It's a far cry from the beer-swilling industry of the 1980s Pollard described.

Pollard went on to detail some of her work as founding member of Women in Journalism, and suggested that the audience make contact with the group.

Next up was Gloucester-based marketing consultant Carol-Ann Saul, with the mantra that 'networking and building contacts are fundamental to a successful PR career'. She energetically orchestrated a round of 'musical chairs' to get everyone speaking to someone new. The trick worked, and attendees found it a useful way of making contacts.

Industry presence
There are currently 43 undergraduate and postgraduate CIPR-approved courses (see box) and the links forged between these institutions and the industry are strong – three quarters of all PR graduates secure jobs related to their field of study. But none of the ten students asked by PRWeek had heard of the CIPR or PRCA before the Young Communicator event. 'I didn't know the PR industry had a trade body,' says Natalie, who is in fact studying English at the University of the West of England.

Many delegates subsequently reveal they are attending to assess the suita-bility of the PR industry – despite pre-event literature making it clear the target was those who had already chosen PR as a career path.

At this event, the trade bodies seem to have overlooked promotion of the industry itself – aside from a table of brochures and a free copy of the latest edition of the CIPR's Profile magazine.

The CIPR insists it goes to some lengths to attract potential PROs. Every November it organises a careers day to mop-up talent. But costing £32, it seems unlikely to attract many cash-strapped students who aren't already sold on a career in PR. 'I don't think attracting new recruits is a problem,' counters Mealor. 'PR is in the top three most popular choices for students.'

Meanwhile, the PRCA produces a careers guide and is currently targeting Oxford and Cambridge, considering students at more traditional establishments as being less likely to choose a career in PR.

Better presenting
Back in Bristol, the afternoon brought workshops. PRWeek picked 'Improving Your Presentations', and found College of St Mark and St John PR lecturer Alison Theaker dressed in David Brent-esque get-up, replete with baseball cap and chewing gum.

'First impressions are everything,' she said, removing the garish garb to reveal a more svelte outfit. She recovered well after her video presentation fails to start properly. Once under way, it asks delegates to discuss which Dragons' Den presentation was best. This is followed by a presentation on how to write a good CV, and another on effective communication at work.

Each workshop seemed broadly useful, but as Banc Communications consultant Stuart Fowkes pointed out, most of the advice could well have been applied to youngsters keen to enter any profession.

'Explicitly billing it as a PR event did it something of an injustice,' he said. 'The advice on hand was invariably pretty useful whichever part of the marketing mix you call home.'

For more specific industry-related training, both the CIPR and PRCA run initiatives for young guns. For those working up to account-director level, the PRCA offers Frontline, set up five years ago. This consists of working groups and training seminars similar to those offered by the CIPR.

Delegates seemed happy with the Young Communicator event, although it appeared more suited to those delegates already attached to a communications agency. 'Being the junior of the office can isolate you – having the chance to share experiences with people in the same position is invaluable,' said Banc account executive Amy Hutchings. 'It was a great opportunity to network with fellow young professionals.'

Saul, at least, would be delighted with this response.

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