Why the ‘Big Quit’ is happening in the PR world

Jade Roberts explores the 'Big Quit', with some PR heavy and light-weights leaving the PR industry. So, what does this mean for the future of public relations?

All hail! The way we work, our attitudes towards work-place culture and general approach to life has cha-cha-changed. I’d argue it changed a long time ago; we just didn’t have the people power to flip the systems we inherited that no longer serve the way we think and live.

Finally inflexible structures and defined roles within homes propping us up so poorly for so long are tumbling down. Good. Yep we’ve all heard about the great resignation, the big quit, the quiet quit, the vibe shift, the death of hustle culture, and funerals for all things girlboss. Again, good.

It feels like just seconds ago the self-employed were all clinging to clients and employees desperate to keep their jobs, and dodge being potentially the next Covid-time staff-cut, cab off the rank. Yet here we are, hop-skip-and-jumping the hell out of there one hot minute we sense values are not aligning. Old friends included. It seems our tolerance for anything less what synchronises with our own personal identity and personal brand is low, really low.

Client or work-place compatibility audits have never had more relevance than now. Important. Ring in a new era of more empowering and social-cause-led-work, better work-life-balance, flexible working hours, working from home options, better pay and more leadership opportunities opened up for women as a result.

What we all want in this more emotional-wellbeing-aware world is a positive and uplifting dynamic kind of career existence. We want opportunities that up-level our personal development, let our own light individually shine within an organisation big or small.

It doesn’t matter whether you work for someone or yourself; we, more than ever before want to be seen, heard, valued and make a positive and meaningful contribution to the places we work, or clients we collaborate with to where and whom we dedicate so much of our time to.

After all, these people and places, within them, hold our precious stories, memories, moments, and conversations – our lives. So much of our time is spent at work and in the company of the people we work with. And we don’t get who we spend our time with back. I know from the many PR peer conversations I’ve had; we’re collectively being more discerning about who, how, where and why, than ever before.

What Covid has all taught us ­– along with the current status of the world in many parts is that, without warning things can change and change big. And if and when it does; is the way we’ve been doing things all worth it? Did our work matter? Did we do it for a purpose beyond ourselves? Did it have social-change impact? Did it make the lives of others better? Our own life better? Did we miss moments we shouldn’t have? Did we have fun?

These philosophical but daily musings for us all are no longer just pie-in-the-sky, whimsical, Pollyanna type thinking. It’s real. It’s important. It’s the true of now. Of always. But our generation, safe as houses, possibly forgot that history repeats. I know I did. And now this type of thinking and the vibe shift in the way we work and our tolerance towards what is right and good for us personally won’t ever be the same.

And so that brings me to the PR industry. Where does it leave us when we’re already working in a space that is centred on so much change always, everyday?! Sneeze and there’s a new social platform we need to hot-shoe-shuffle towards, a magazine or newspaper closure we need to fill a gap for, and a new potential tactic to embrace that week, not yet known. Don’t forget the environment of short-lead times, coordinating with a 24 hour news cycle unrelenting and unreasonable client demands from clients stuck in the 90s who think PR is publicity, co-writing articles for media short of staff without the glory of a name credit, all consuming-unpaid hours because you need to market the business, market yourself, while you win the work and do the work, centred on an industry short of staff because ‘hello’…the big quit. It’s a lot. And I can understand why PR people are leaving an industry that is like many others uncertain and balance deficient.

But on the flip; well, what I can say is that we PR pros are built for change. We’re resilient to it. We embrace it. It’s how we survive on the daily in an industry that thrives on the very oxygen of the content economy we’re energised to prop up and keep up with; which by nature changes daily (Clubhouse: out. BeReal: In. TikTok: Here to stay, for now).  Keeping up?

So while I have noticed that some PR heavy and light-weights are leaving the PR industry in droves; just like many other industries also impacted by this status quo where we’ve all gone from languishing in lockdowns to running on adrenaline in a state of perennial-pandemic surge capacity; to take a step back, to recalibrate and find new and better ways to make working in this industry sustainable. Many of my peers, myself included have had to reassess what truly matters and why. Do we still love what we do? Are we paid well for the hard work we put in? And does it all matter? Is my contribution worthy? Fark, am I worthy?

As we ponder our place in the world and all that we do to uplift the brilliance in others and bring their stories to the people who need them most; what I think we’ll see with The Big Quit in the PR industry is that many PR professionals will continue to leave the industry for good. Burnout is real, and quite frankly not worth it. Or we’ll see more pros change communications sports for example, pivot from brand marketing (building awareness, loyalty, connection) to performance marketing (centred on sales and analytics) or put their PR powers to a more pure social media, and content marketing space.

Or like me, some will continue to search, find and create ways to restore the PR industry and ourselves. To share knowledge and ignite a healthier understanding of how PR works so that consultant and client can coexist more peacefully. To never stop designing ways for PR people to work smarter, more efficiently, and enable them to have the language and confidence they need to report on PR value as it is now and not in a way that it isn’t and never was.

We’re going to see the PR people who choose to stay and not go, continue to create conversations that connect communities in meaningful ways and make our world better. We’ll also see PR people taking on projects more consciously with people, planet and fair pay in mind. We’ll see the industry come together in more collaborative ways than ever before; sharing knowledge and resources to execute projects seamlessly in a less depleting way. We’ll see PR pros protect their mental health more deliberately and say no to short-lead times that don’t give them the space to perform at peak performance and optimise budgets.

We’ll see the PR pro stayers, become highly sought after resources in a recession market where companies will be relying on the long-term romance of potential customers to loyal and forever fans.

The PR pro stayers will be pandemic-primed with all their resilience, tenacity and platform agnostic communications capacity. What this does is place PR people as the frontrunners to help companies navigate the all-important task of becoming the backdrop of certainty, stability, strength, reassurance, connection and community, at a time where people need and expect humanisation when they are making the decision to choose one brand over another. This is our place and power in the world and this is why despite it all, we keep pushing our love for PR on.

Jade Roberts, founder and director of raraPR and The Art of PR School.


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