Buckle Up. It’s Going to Get Rough

Simon Quarendon | July 10, 2020


Time was when professional trade bodies acted as cheerleaders for their industry. Not anymore if the interview Francis Ingham, director general of the PR trade body PRCA recently gave is anything to go by. In his rather doom-laden interview on the PRMoment podcast Francis predicted that the PR industry would lose 5,000 jobs owing to Covid.

That’s a headline number that’ll grab most people’s attention (well, he does represent the PR industry after all.) But let’s look closer at that figure.

According to Stastica, the PR industry employed 57,000 in 2019. So 5,000 represents 8% of the entire workforce. A chunky number but the average staff turnover in PR agencies is 20% per annum and if you add in those who retire, go on maternity leave or simply decide the industry is not for them then that number may not be quite so earth shattering.

[In his interview, Francis puts the numbers employed at closer to 100,000. If true, this further reduces the percentage affected to 4%.]

Whether 4% or 8%, what is earth shattering will be the effect those job losses will have on the people involved because there are real people behind that number. Many of whom have worked damned hard to get into the industry, loved being in the industry and are gutted at the thought of being ejected from it.

It’s a hard pill to swallow if your life doesn’t pan out the way you though it would. But. Again, let’s keep a sense of perspective here.

Even if they only managed to spend a small amount of time in the industry, they’ll know that it attaches a great deal of importance to being a team player. On the importance as well of good communications, (be it oral, written, social or digital), on delivering high quality client service, on working hard. Those are all highly transferable skills that will stand them in good stead in their job search.

What is unfortunate is that these individuals were looking to work in the industry at the present time. The last unemployment spike was eight years ago in 2012 when it reached 8%. You need to go back ten years to 1992 to find the next peak when it topped 11%. And you need to go back a further ten years (again) to 1982 when it topped 12%.

There’s a regularly recurring cycle ‘thing’ going on here and I’m afraid they’ve caught the wrong part of it.

I wouldn’t wish redundancy on anyone. (I should know, I was made redundant from an agency in 2002). But there are several mitigating factors that weren’t present before.

A Chancellor who is determined to empty the tank if necessary, to preserve jobs for one. Access to multiple – and currently very cheap – online training courses for another.

One of the largest online education providers, Udemy recently raised $50m from a single investor. Its president, Darren Shimkus was quoted in Forbes as saying” We’re in a world that’s changing so quickly that skills that were valued just three or four years ago are no longer relevant”.

So picking up a new set of skills, although tiresome, is not the end of the world. In fact, these newly redudant may have to do it several times in their working lives. Just think how enriched their lives will be having worked in multiple industries rather than their parents who likely as not spent their entire working lives in just one?

Of course, if those unfortunate to lose their jobs in PR do want to stay in the industry then I say, keep going. Several new PR agencies have set up during lock down and will be hiring shortly, I’m sure.

In fact my old friend Darryl Sparey, who’s backing himself to start up one called Hard Numbers has updated his LinkedIn profile to read ‘MD and Co-founder of Hard Numbers – I’M HIRING!!

Simon Quarendon

Simon Quarendon is a veteran marketer and communicator with a career spanning nearly 40 years. He has bought, built, sold, rescued, led and mentored just about every kind of creative communications agency in existence and run global accounts for the best in the world. Today, Simon runs the business end of Selbey Anderson, working across the group to make sure clients get the best and the agencies all prosper.