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The Evolution of PR

 

Grant Titmus made the decision to move from his role as Chief Sub-Editor for The Age into the world of public relations over a decade ago. These days as the agency’s Principal, he is responsible for mentoring the team at Red Agency, a member of the Havas global network and overseeing the growth of the agency.

We had to ask him: how has the media landscape changed in that time? And how can PR professionals remain competitive in such a fast moving industry?

 

It’s interesting to note you came from a journalism background and moved into public relations. What was the catalyst for change?

I was the Chief Sub-Editor at The Age and majority of my work was done from 2pm to midnight. I had two young children and I wasn’t seeing much of them.

I saw an opportunity to try something new and have more of a balance in my life. About the same time, The Age had a round of redundancies so I thought it was a good time to make the move.

 

In what ways has the PR landscape evolved since then?

The advent of social media has changed the landscape for anyone in marketing/PR/communications. When I started it was so dominated by writing media releases. Now that is only a small, albeit important facet of our work.

The way people are absorbing media is completely different and now we get called in much earlier to marketing discussions. PR used to be an afterthought (if there was enough budget leftover). Now brands look at how to spend their marketing dollars very differently.

Measurement have also radically changed. These days, through [digital] insights we have a lot of intelligence about a consumer’s purchasing habits, which is incredibly impactful when planning a campaign.

 

What are the biggest challenges for your clients?

Marketing managers have so many options available to them and are looking at PR agencies to help put the pieces of the puzzle together.

We’re seeing brands continue to invest in issues and crisis management. One inaccurate piece of information can completely undo 25 years of good work for a brand.

We are now doing more preventative work than even before, and running simulations to test the contingency plans to see that they actually work and to evaluate the performances of those involved.

 

How would you describe your workforce in terms of demographic?

We’ve observed the public relations industry in Australia is getting increasingly younger. It’s so fast-paced that people in their thirties often bow out later in life to pursue other interests, travel or start a family.

Our median age in the PR department is around 29. Like any agency, we lose a few people to overseas travels in their mid 20s and there is quite a lot of movement.

We’re actively looking at increasing the age of those in the office. People over 30, in my experience, are often more settled. They’ve travelled, have settled down and are looking to grow their career.

 

PR is often perceived as a ‘soft skill’ and therefore associated with a very ‘female’ industry. What’s your take on that?

This is something the agency heads discuss on a regular basis. When I worked in newspapers about 90% of those who applied were female. In PR it is probably 95%. Men are so few and far between and I don’t think that is going to change any time soon. Having said that, digital/social roles tend to be a 50/50 split so as this discipline grows in agencies I think the gender mix will shift slightly – but that will also take time.

 

How could PR attract more men?

A lot of agencies want to employ more men but they are just simply not there. I am the only male in our Melbourne team and there are no males in our Brisbane team. But our Sydney team has a considerable number of males. Having more males in an office is nice for balance but our philosophy is to employ the very best person for the vacancy that we have.

 

What gaps are you seeing in the industry that need to be filled to remain competitive?

Being able to write is non-negotiable, but it takes time to develop these skills. Now that social is such a large part of our work, this is also important, but not every CV I look at has this diversity.

 

The agency landscape is very competitive and PR’s have more opportunities than ever to find a workplace that delivers what they want. What initiatives do you have in place to encourage people to want to stick around?

Red Refresh is a ‘timeout’ initiative we’ve introduced. All the staff take knock off about 3pm on a Friday once a month and we do something that brings us closer together and to talk about anything but work. Last month we hired bikes and cycled along the beach. We’ve also done the 1,000 steps at the foot of the Dandenongs and ice skating.

Red Reflect gives our people three hours off once a month, to take time off to get out of work and into something new. This might be to check out an art gallery, see a movie, go home to read a book they wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance to or perhaps connect with their family. People get their birthdays off too.

Once a year the entire Red Agency team has a get together for three days to share initiatives, learnings and ideas for the future. There were some really great sessions delivered by all members of staff no matter what their seniority was.

Everyone in the organisation has a mentor. We try to make this someone interstate and also someone who is one or two levels up in regards to experience.

Because we are part of the Havas global group we sit with media buyers, creatives, planners, designers – a real mix of people and skills. I still learn new things virtually every day. That keeps work life interesting!