WPR team members discussing PR strategy

Why We Need To Increase Awareness of Careers in Comms

It’s National Careers Week and you won’t be surprised to hear that we’re passionate advocates of careers in PR, social media and communications. Founded over three decades ago, WPR has been championing young PR and comms professionals ever since.

From our managing director Jane Ainsworth, who joined fresh out of university, to last year’s record-breaking intake of junior team members, developing industry talent and helping people shape fulfilling careers in PR has always been an integral part of our agency’s purpose, as well as a key ingredient in its success.

However, we’re also big believers that you should never rest on your laurels and, over the last 18-months, we’ve revisited every aspect of our recruitment and outreach activity to explore whether the way we approach this is fit for purpose in 2023 and beyond. So, what did we learn and what changes have we made?

1. we need to reach people earlier in their career journeys

The CIPR’s Levelling Up report has reinforced the fact that many people just don’t know enough about the career opportunities that our sector offers.  It found that 52% of people in PR only became aware of it after they had begun their working lives, with 29% discovering it while at university.

This illustrates why it’s so important that we talk to younger people. By reaching them while they’re still at school, they can find out more about the potential PR or comms careers available to them, the routes they could take to get a foot on the ladder, and the skills they need to succeed before they need to make decisions.

We have brilliant relationships with universities and will continue to nurture these. But we’re now also making sure we include more schools and colleges in our outreach activity, speaking directly with teenagers who are in the early stages of their research into potential careers, and giving them useful insight into the opportunities out there.    

2. we need to remove potential barriers to recruitment

We also know that not everyone chooses to take higher education path and we recognised some time ago that requiring specific academic qualifications alienated a potential talent pool, putting up unnecessary barriers to what can be an extremely rewarding career.

With that in mind, last year we abolished the word ‘graduate’ from our job titles; all entry-level colleagues now begin their careers as ‘juniors’.  We also re-wrote job adverts and job descriptions so that they focus on skills and competencies, not academic achievements.

3. we need to offer meaningful learning experiences

Young people who do have their sights set on a career in comms, face the battle of trying to get noticed in a competitive field. For many, getting some experience under their belts is the natural first step, offering a chance to improve their CVs, get a taste of working life and learn something useful.

Hopefully, the days when work experience meant either making the tea or being asked to work for free on client accounts are over. We’ve designed our Next Gen insight experience to give aspiring comms professionals a better understanding of the industry and a taster of agency life, in a structured learning programme that allows people to explore specialisms as they progress.

This year, we are also working with a local college and have taken on our first T Level student, offering another route into the industry which combines practical experience with classroom learning.

4. we need to increase diversity in the industry

The CIPR’s Levelling Up report also highlighted the issue of diversity in the UK’s PR industry.  It’s an industry that employs around 100,000 people and contributes £16.7bn to the UK economy but its consistent growth hasn’t led to increased diversity. As well as addressing issues of equality, diversity and inclusion across protected characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality and disability, social class, education and geography are additional factors where the industry as a whole lacks diversity.

Ultimately, increasing the diversity of teams will benefit everyone. It is widely acknowledged that more diverse teams are more successful and, in the comms industry specifically, we need to capture the breadth of insight, opinion and experience that people with different ideas and backgrounds offer, if we’re to deliver the best possible work for our clients and the audiences they want to reach.

It’s an industry-wide challenge but, to make positive changes at WPR, we’ve collected our own diversity metrics to benchmark where we are now, and where we want to be in the future. Among a raft initiatives to accelerate change, we’ve introduced blind recruitment and diverse interview panels, trained our entire team in racial equity and culture change, and appointed two D&I advisors to the board.

We’ve expanded our outreach programme, and have forged successful partnerships with the Taylor Bennett Foundation and 10,000 Black Interns, creating dedicated internships and participating in mentoring schemes encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to explore their career options.

We now have two clear diversity and inclusion goals which will see us champion belonging for the groups we currently over-index, including LGBTQ+ and neurodivergence, and implement a roadmap of action to correct the groups we under-index for. Our ultimate aim is to build a team representative of the West Midlands community by 2028.

There is huge potential for businesses with the appetite to invest the time and effort to inspire the next generation of industry talent. We can shape a comms sector that is truly representative of our society and best equipped to deliver exceptional work in this fast-paced, exciting industry.

At WPR, we’ll keep shouting about the incredible career opportunities the PR, social and comms industry offers, and seeking out the best and brightest talent so that young people can discover a career they’re passionate about.

The author: Rebecca Williams, director (people and planning), is responsible for everything ‘team’ at WPR. From work experience to recruitment, through to team engagement and retention, Rebecca ensures WPR’s team is one of the best – and happiest – in the industry.

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