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Jordan Greenaway: “The PR industry still has a problem with unpaid internships. It needs to stop.”

In our latest website interview, Jordan Greenaway talks about getting started in the public relations industry, confronts some of the bad practices that still plague the sector, and suggests ways forward to elevate the reputation and standing of the sector amongst university-leavers.

Group of interns working in London

This month, we spoke with our Managing Director, Jordan Greenaway, about finding a job in the public relations industry, the fierce competition for talent, the skills gap in the sector at the moment, and why we should all be optimistic about the future.

Is it difficult to enter the PR industry?

Jordan Greenaway (JG): It has always been difficult – and the PR industry is at least partly to blame. In other professional careers, such as financial services and law, there is a clear pathway to get started in the sector. That pathway usually involves a vacation scheme and a graduate programme, which is then followed by a full-time job offer.

But, in comparison to law or financial services, the routes in PR are very undefined and unclear. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear people working in PR say that they “fell into” the sector accidentally – perhaps shifting from politics, marketing, or elsewhere. That shows you how undefined the routes actually are.

But without these clearly defined and established routes, it’s difficult for graduates, students, or career changers to know where to start. They don’t know what experience they need to demonstrate to get their first role, and they don’t know how to get that initial experience in the first place.

Does the industry still have a problem with unpaid internships?

JG: Yes. It’s clear that unpaid internships are still a problem in the sector, and this should have stopped years ago. Standards have improved over the last decade, but there is much further to go. It staggers me when I hear from candidates who say they have been offered an unpaid internship or voluntary work experience at a different company. And it’s not just small agencies and freelancers who are responsible for this bad practice either.

If someone is sitting in the office all day, whether it’s monitoring the media or otherwise, it goes without saying that they should be paid. But, even worse, we’re locking fantastic talent out of the industry. The vast majority of new-starters in the industry simply would not be able to work for free. Commuting, living, and working in the UK and London is incredibly expensive.

Is there a talent crunch at the moment?

JG: This has been a hot topic in public relations over the last 6 months, and I think it is being driven by a number of factors. After we started to come out of the pandemic, a lot of agencies went on a recruitment drive, which increased competition for talent.

At the same time, over the last two years, a number of experienced PR people decided to leave agencies to start working freelance. I think we will actually start to see that trend reverse over the next 12 months. While there are certainly benefits to going freelance, there are also drawbacks. I think some freelancers will start to miss having a team around them, the social aspect, and the job security of being a member of a larger agency.

But, in the meantime, we have a larger number of agencies vying for a smaller pool of talent.

How can the industry overcome the current skills gap?

JG: Understandably, we all want to hire skilled, experienced team members, but we also all have a responsibility to invest in upskilling and training the next generation of talent. And I think PR agencies need to take that responsibility seriously, whether they’re a big, small, or micro players.

While this might not be an immediate solution to the talent crunch, if we all just keep focussing on the current pool of talent – rather than investing together to increase the size of that pool – we are never going to overcome the challenge. It will continue to be a perennial issue that appears on the pages of PRWeek year after year.

The first step is for the industry to be much more active on university campuses. We are still lagging heavily behind other industries, such as finance, in terms of our presence at career fairs and elsewhere. We should work hard to ensure that PR becomes a first-choice career for more university-leavers, and show to these people that we’re willing to invest in their first two years of training with defined schemes.

What can PR learn from other industries?

JG: Many PR professionals all have a bit of a chip on their shoulder: why aren’t we held in the same esteem as lawyers, accountants, management consultants, and other professional occupations?

I think at least part of the truth is that we don’t invest as heavily in new recruits, training, and talent acquisition as these other industries. Law and accountancy are seen, rightly, as rigorous, highly-skilled sectors.

As an industry, I think we need to increase the rigour with which we train our colleagues, teams, and new recruits. As well as benefiting our companies, I think this will also do the job of raising the prestige and standing of the industry itself. Transmission Private hasn’t always got this right, and it’s one of our priorities over the next 12 months.

Are there signs that make you optimistic?

JG: Yes, absolutely. On one hand, the PRCA has done some great work under its Better Internships campaign, including undertaking steps to stamp out unpaid internships and getting people from more diverse backgrounds into PR.

On the other hand, I think more graduates are starting to think about PR and communications as a ‘career of choice’. I think one of the drivers of this change has been the growing presence of media in the lives of young people, whether it’s the explosion of online media, social media, or – more recently – rich media, such as videos and podcasts.

At the same time, there are good reasons to be excited about the future of the industry. We’re really starting to see the sector evolve quite dramatically. In my view, one of the biggest game changers for the industry right now is the proliferation of new rich, digital content and the important role it plays in communications, storytelling, and reputation building.

I’m not only speaking about podcasts and videos, but more engaging and cutting-edge content forms too, whether it’s VR and the metaverse, or something even beyond that. The savvy companies are not only focussing on building their talent capability across rich media – but beyond that.

If you would like to join Transmission Private, read more about career opportunities on our current vacancies page. Newcomers to the industry are also encouraged to apply for our paid PR internship scheme.

Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.

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Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.