Hard Times or Great Expectations?

This is an article by Laura Smith.
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Credit crunch, recession, redundancy, closure. The list goes on of words dominating the media on a daily basis, and the reality of the situation they describe is becoming more daunting by the week.

Last summer’s headlines featured record breaking fuel prices instead of soaring temperatures; autumn saw speculation on the costs of starting university, now proving too much for many while you could only pitch journalists stories on how to have an economical Christmas in the months leading up to the holiday season.

The recession was perhaps inevitable, and cutbacks in everyday personal and professional lives are unavoidable. The government is telling us to spend our way through the recession and companies are offering money-saving tips and ways to make our salary go further, but what about those who don’t yet have a secure income, and aren’t looking at gaining one in the near future? 2008 saw yet another high number of students graduating with fantastic results, but what use are hard-earned degrees if the country has no graduate jobs to offer?

So how is PR fitting into this? Some say that the industry will continue to demand new employees. But then again, we are talking about an industry that exists to put a positive spin on most situations, or at least to draw attention away from a negative one. Is that what PR has done for its own profession?

It’s true that PR could benefit from cutbacks to traditional advertising budgets, but the big picture looks rather less optimistic.

Every week sees a new announcement of redundancies, with the PR industry being no exception. PR Week ran a front page column listing the latest cutbacks in employees from well-established agencies recently, and a Bellwether report describing how business budgets are highlighting the suffering of PR: “Hardest hit were the budgets for ‘all other’, which includes PR, and the media category”.

Views of PR’s fate across the profession vary, from in-house having better prospects than agency, the public sector better than private, and companies having an excuse to downsize without criticism.

One opinion apparent at London agency, Edelman, is that bigger is better. An agency representing organisations from technology, consumer and financial sectors should be suffering, but staff say they’re ‘not feeling the credit crunch like other companies’, with their graduate scheme running as normal with no changes to recruitment levels.

The problem here is not recession, but the competition. All PR students know the industry is a tough and competitive one, with not just PR graduates applying for PR jobs. Students in PR, Marketing, Journalism and English, to name a few, are all competing for jobs that aren’t there, some who are still career-hunting after graduating a number of years ago.

This proves the importance of having a clear sense of direction about your career, before it begins. Completing your degree, going travelling and coming back and taking a year or two to decide what to do with your life is no longer an option. Students now have to know where they are heading and how to get there. Juggling university work with CV-boosting experience can be a struggle, but is now essential if a degree is to appear worthwhile to a financially-challenged industry.

While the opinion of some top professionals is still that of ‘if you’re good at what you do, you will succeed’, this is not being reflected in recruitment figures. Individuals who have never taken a sick-day in their life are now finding themselves staying at home with little more to do than worry over their finances while finding work even outside the industry is proving impossible.

The government is looking at ways to help and the idea of a placement scheme is being discussed. The scheme would encourage businesses to offer three month unpaid placements to graduates who need to build vital experience. Helpful for some, perhaps, but the idea of working full-time, unpaid, is not an appealing one, which is why academics are stressing the importance of combining placements with university, to save doing so as a graduate with no student loan to fall back on.

The economy is going to be far from stable for a number of years to come, with reports of a further downturn in the next year and the possibility of a recovery being apparent no sooner than the 2030s being broadcast across the media. Graduates can’t wait until then to begin a career, and while many already established professionals are setting up on their own, students unfortunately lack the experience and confidence to be able to pursue this route.

“promote yourself through your blog, Twitter activity and networking. You are more likely to succeed if companies recognise your name, no matter how the industry is doing.”

PR professionals are all offering the same advice to students hoping to begin a career during these financially unstable times: promote yourself through your blog, Twitter activity and networking. You are more likely to succeed if companies recognise your name, no matter how the industry is doing.

Photo Credit: Victoria Louise Crampton, Flickr

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