The young pretenders

As PRWeek launches its ‘Top 29, under 29' search for young PR talent, Joe Lepper talks to three of the industry's rising stars

PRWeek is seeking to identify the UK's brightest young PR professionals with the launch of the inaugural 'Top 29 under 29' report.

To be published in the summer, and judged by a panel of industry experts, the report will reveal the young PROs who are punching above their weight in terms of results for their clients, embracing new comms channels, and taking on extra industry responsibilities.

There are currently three individual accolades given to young PR professionals: the PRWeek Young Communicator of the Year Award, the CIPR's Outstanding Young Communicator, and the PRCA's Young Professional of the Year Award.

The current holder of the PRWeek award holder is Alicia Mistry, 22, who was recognised while an undergraduate handling PR for the University of York's Asian Society. She is now a graduate trainee at Ketchum. The CIPR and PRCA award winners for 2005 were, respectively, Lewis PR general manager Kath Pooley, 31, and Alex Clack, 24, who won her accolade as an account manager at August.One Communications before moving to Ogilvy PR.

To launch the 'Top 29 under 29' PRWeek brought these PROs together to ask them  how they see themselves taking the industry forward. All have strong views about the industry and how it can improve.

Clack says her main concern is still about the industry's lack of cohesion between PR and the other marketing disciplines: 'There is no strategic overview when one person looks after the PR budget and someone else looks after the marketing money.' Mistry adds: 'I'd like to see more co-ordination across the disciplines. We are all working towards the same goal but the lines of communication are nowhere near as good as they should be.'

Pooley admits that being a Young Communicator has made her feel she must be 'more involved in the industry', and cites age diversity and staff retention as her biggest anxieties.

'In the agency sector our industry seems very young and this points to a worrying trend,' she explains. 'The norm seems to be for older staff to move in-house. There's a brain-drain that I fear will continue, and the industry has to break out of the mould. We must have more of a mix, with younger people taking those in-house roles and [older people] in agencies.'

Credibility issues
All three agree that at the heart of the industry there is a credibility issue that must be addressed. Pooley is the most vocal on this.

'I hope that one day I can say "I'm in PR" without having to make light of it,' she says. 'And PR will earn more respect when it is seen to embrace new channels that are genuinely relevant, such as blogs. We have our own thought leadership blog, but also manage five corporate blogs and run training on how our staff can target bloggers. More agency and in-house PROs need to invest in this urgently.'

Luckily, with youth comes optimism, and despite their concerns, all three feel a bright future is within their generation's grasp. Clack says she is pleased that PR is at least beginning to gain a reputation as one of the toughest jobs around, rather than being seen by as an 'easy ride'. She says: 'My friends know how long the hours are and the hard work that is involved. It's always me who has to cancel arrangements because I'm working late.'

Meanwhile, Mistry's motivation lies in the unpredictability of the job: 'Every day is different.' She believes being in PR has actually had a welcome effect on her personal life, saying: 'In PR you have to build up confidence.'

Both Clack and Mistry believe they will still be in PR in five years' time - a statement only 16 per cent agreed with in the recent PRWeek Salary Survey (27 January).

'I'm still young and don't want to rule anything out,' says Mistry, who is most interested in pursuing a public affairs path. 'I'm pretty sure I'll stay in PR too,' adds Clack. 'I enjoy the communication and people side.'

Unsurprisingly, as someone who already has a decade's service to the industry under her belt, Pooley has far loftier ambitions. 'I want to be the first female to do "something". I recently saw Baroness Hogg [the first female chairman of a FTSE 100 company, 3i] speak at a networking event. She is such an inspiration.'

If the PRWeek 'Top 29 under 29' uncovers more communicators like these three, the comms industry itself should provide major inspiration for future PROs.

You can enter by yourself or on your behalf. Deadline for entries is  12 May.

Past 'young communicators'

Jay O'CONNOR, managing partner, Fuse PR - 2001 IPR YOUNG COMMUNICATOR OF THE YEAR
'When I won the award my only goal was building better links between PR businesses and industry. I felt PR just didn't have the reputation it deserved and I wanted to have more meaningful dialogue with board directors. I now sit on the CIPR's Professional Standards Board while my co-founder sits on 'Intellect', the trade body for technology companies. I'm just as passionate about PR being more accountable and responsive the real needs of business as I was then.'

Debbie WOSCOW, managing director, Mantra PR - 1998 IPR YOUNG COMMUNICATOR OF THE YEAR
'I came to the PR industry via management consultancy. My main ambition  was to take advantage of the new business that seemed to be available for new PR agencies. Six years after setting up Mantra (I was at Brunswick when I won the award) my aspirations have focused on the business, which I want to continue to grow. I want to work for interesting clients and recruit the best staff. However, I don't see myself as just a PR professional, but as a business person too.'

Elisabeth LEWIS-JONES, founding partner, Liquid PR - 1995 IPR YOUNG COMMUNICATOR OF THE YEAR 
'When I won I was only 25. I aspired to be a board director at Willoughby Public Relations and then see where it went. The fact that there was no real career progression for PROs was a real issue for me at the time; other professions seemed to have a definite track they could follow. Unfortunately this is still the case, although the problem has moved into being one of how to keep staff. It is sad that PROs feel they have to keep moving around to build their careers. Agencies need to offer their employees more stability and planned career growth.'

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