Age delivers experience, one of the strongest influences on competency and excellence that exists, with PR being no exception. Whether it involves any form of writing, managing a crisis, developing strategy, integrating public relations into broader business and marketing activity, managing teams and working with colleagues, or simply having developed a humility that comes from the realisation that everyone makes mistakes – it’s what you learn from them and how you deal with them that matters most – age=maturity=PR/business ROI.
Yet, according to Australia’s outgoing commissioner responsible for age discrimination, from the age of 45 employment options start to shrink for people. “From that point on, one of the greatest barriers to employment is age,” said Elizabeth Broderick, who worked in her role for three years.
Gender discrimination is not tolerated, as Ms Broderick said, so why should age discrimination be any more acceptable?
I was nearly fooled into discrimination by age
A few years ago I was recruiting for a role that reported to me. There were a number of younger, as well as an older, candidates. Compared to the others, much, much older in fact. And considerably older than most of the team I had working with me.
Yet, according to the job specs this was clearly the most qualified and suitable person for the job. But I wavered.
What if this person wouldn’t fit into the fast-moving, fluid culture of the team I already had? Would the candidate be able to offer the insights into new technology that were emerging for web and digital communication? (Somewhat ironically, this role was all to do with managing a website, supposedly young turk turf…)
But I hired the old guy (oh yes, he knows who it is!), and you know what, here’s what happened:
- He educated all of the team, but me especially, on a range of digital communication capabilities
- He was way ahead of most other IT/web-related professionals I’d interacted with
- He recognised age as a perception-barrier from other people so worked extremely hard to deliver not just what was required by the role, but to provide value-add on top of that
- His energy levels and devotion to the job meant you had to prise him out of the office and even then, as we soon learnt, he’d continue working on delivering beyond best practice outcomes at home
- His experience enabled him to navigate turbulent political waters and interact with those unhappy with change (because this guy led a huge seachange in website communication at the organisation) successfully
- He provided sage advice to me many a time, sometimes specifically relevant to his own role and sometimes in relation to leadership, management and business communication in a broader sense.
And you know what, he also became a good friend. Not just of myself, but of all those younger folk in the team as well. Multiple wins all round.
Suffice to say, lesson well learnt.
Why age rules in public relations
Hopefully (!), the more you do something the better at it you get. The flipside of this is that you can also get jaded by it, losing enthusiasm and hence an edge or creativity or freshness that is required. Like most things, it comes down to the individual and their attitude.
Certainly, as writing is PR’s number one skill, we can do with all the expertise we can get. I’ve found younger people in PR to often possess very poor writing skills. Age can be a real winner in this regard.
The more you write, the more feedback you get, the more lessons you learn – the better you get. Either that, or you get unemployed.
Dealing effectively with people – whether they be journalists, senior management, colleagues and others – is probably PR’s number two skill. And as you age you naturally encounter a range of different people and are put in a range of situations, many of them confronting. These experiences impact not just on knowledge, but in the array of responses we develop to resolve and leverage them for the best possible outcome.
This is nothing against youth (which has plenty going for it too!) it is just a simple result of aging. Age definitely wins in these regards!
Within PR, age seems to me like it should be perceived as having excellent POD. This is an industry dominated by youth. Perhaps this is partly because it is a female-centric industry and women tend to leave the workforce (due to family commitments?) as they age. I don’t know, I’m just speculating, because having a lot of women in PR is one of the best things about the industry.
The dwindling of PR professionals as we age underlines that in PR we should be trying to hang onto older workers for as long as possible. The knowledge they possess is equally important, and in many situations vastly more so, than whatever we learn from doing a Masters degree or deep-diving into social media 24/7/12/52.
Funnily enough, in my experience older people in the workforce tend to behave in a young way. That’s if you characterise the young as having:
- A willingness to try something new.
We could all do with a bit more age in our workforce.
What examples do you have of either age discrimination in the workplace or where older employees have delivered excellent value? What do you think it is about older workers that adds value to the workforce? Or do you disagree; do you only want to work with young people in the PR industry?