Head to Head: Does the PR industry have a problem with attracting junior talent?

In this series, Mumbrella invites senior PR professionals to share their opposing views on the industry's biggest issues and talking points. This week, Mango's managing director, Tabitha Fairbairn, and PRIA NSW's Young Guns co-chair, Rachel King, go head to head on whether PR has a problem attracting junior talent.

Two weeks ago, the PR industry spoke out against the proposed changes to university fees, which would double the price of arts and communications degrees and attempt to push students into ‘job relevant’ fields.

PRIA national president, Leigh McClusky, argued that the skills which are taught to communications professionals in universities are ‘job relevant’ and public relations has proven to have “a critical role to play” throughout the pandemic.

Tabitha Fairbairn, managing director of Mango Communications, and Rachel King co-chair of PRIA NSW’s Young Guns, agree that the changes to the university fees will create a serious issue in drawing talent into the industry.

But, does the PR industry already have a problem with attracting junior talent?

Fairbairn says that PR has an awareness problem, and it is hard to find the skills that service the diversity of the industry’s work.

Meanwhile, King argues attracting people into the industry is not the problem, but the industry needs to address churn and diversity to support its junior ranks.

Does the PR industry have a problem with attracting junior talent?

Tabitha Fairbairn, managing director of Mango Communications, argues ‘Yes’:

PR has a problem attracting talent at all levels, mainly due to a lack of knowledge about what a career in the industry entails. Problematically, nearly every person you meet in PR will tell you that very few of their friends and family understand what they do.

If we can’t make those closest to us understand our daily jobs, how can we share that more broadly? PR doesn’t just have a reputation challenge. It has an awareness challenge.

This is unfortunate because PR is one of the most exciting communications disciplines around. On any given day, our roles may be founded in comms strategy planning, content production, publicity strategy, event planning, influencer marketing, risk mitigation, issues management and more. We create thought leaders, orchestrate endorsements and fuel conversations.

Even people who work in PR will tell you stories of joining an agency and being constantly surprised at the diversity of the work. Our juniors at Mango work across all our clients. Their day includes anything from pitching stories to media, researching media lists and influencers, helping plan events, managing activations, helping out at content shoots, drafting media releases, sourcing production quotes and more.

We hire people who can break down a text and rebuild a messaging structure in a way that will be published, discussed, shared, announced, or, ideally, endorsed. This skillset is partially technical, which comes from on-the-job learning; but more importantly, it is the analytical ability to research and form arguments.

As it becomes more difficult for people to attend university to take on a Bachelor of Arts, these skills will be even harder to find.

We need to showcase the great, interesting and challenging work that PR agencies are doing every day at every level. We need to increase the number of people entering this industry at the junior levels to ensure we have the talent pipeline.

To solve this, we need first to solve the lack of awareness. PR needs an elevator pitch and we need it quickly.

Rachel King, co-chair of the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s NSW Young Guns Comittee, argues ‘No’:

I don’t think we have a problem with attracting talent into the industry through tertiary education. PR is a really competitive field and young talent is budding – many junior candidates in the job market are innovative and adaptive with great development potential.

However, recruiting and retaining junior talent can be more of a challenge. I believe it all comes down to company culture, values and career progression opportunities. It’s so important to put strategies in place to retain and develop your future leaders.

When it comes to recruiting with a large talent pool to choose from, the hardest part is finding the best-of-the-best junior talent and actually giving them a chance – that foot in the door. Look out for the students who have taken the initiative to complete real-world experiences. Hands-on practical PR experience is gold. These students will be one step ahead and much more job ready.

While we don’t have a problem right now, there is potential for future problems to emerge. We all need to consider the Federal Government’s proposal to increase university fees – what will our talent pipeline look like in the 2020s and beyond?

Potential talent may be deterred from leveraging their natural abilities and following their passions as a direct result of socioeconomic factors, ultimately thinning the diversity of our industry. This is a very real threat to the future quality of our talent pool and the PR industry as a whole. We could all suffer in the end if we lost our brightest PR talent of the next generation.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.