Editor’s note: This is the 1st in a series of guest posts from industry thought leaders predicting key trends that will impact the public relations industry in 2014. Hosted under the hashtag #PRin2014, the series began Jan. 8, 2014, with a compilation post previewing some of the predictions.
Even with growing demand for public relations services, agencies and corporations will resist filing full-time positions while increasing their reliance on interns and contractors.
Driven by uncertainty over true economic recovery, agency and business leaders will need hard proof that current positive signs of future growth is a reality, not another illusion in the country’s lack-luster four-year recovery. Meanwhile, despite alleged belt tightening, government-related public relations jobs will increase at a more rapid rate than private-sector positions.
This new reality will require Millennials and other job seekers to make adjustments in their expectations and job-search strategies.
Most Millennials have come to grips with the fact a full-time job happens only after multiple internships and perhaps a couple of freelance contractor positions. During remarks at a PRSSA conference six years ago, I recall telling aspiring young professionals that the average number of internships before landing a full-time position had just risen to three. Today, it is at least five. And many Millennials convert internship experience into contractor status at organizations that need their services, but full-time jobs too often remain elusive.
In early December, I visited a mid-size agency and was surprised to see how many people were working there so I asked about headcount. The office director responded, “There are 60 people here, but half are interns and W9s.” W9 is the IRS reporting form employers use to report taxes for non full-time employees, a.k.a contractors.
“While current assignments suggest we have more work than we can handle, we’re reluctant to make full-time hiring commitments without being dead certain that this isn’t a business surge that fizzles out in 2014,” said the hiring manager who for competitive reasons didn‘t want to be identified. “So we manage ebbs and flows with contractors, some of whom work more than 40 hours a week but at other times it’s more like 20 hours”.
Traci Daniels, one of my former students, is a mini-case study representing what many Millennials face today. Traci has had several internships and contractor positions en route to the full-time job she hopes to land in 2014. Her first internship was at United Airlines and at the end of the customary six-month limit in such a position, she was converted to a full-time contractor. But the contractor position was eventually eliminated and she became a temporary media relations contractor in a state agency before moving to another contractor role with LimeGreen, a Chicago agency. In the agency job, she soon moved to full-time after going above-and-beyond the assignment as she played a leadership role in winning a significant piece of new business for the agency. She’s now looking for the perfect full-time position, but not afraid to return to contractor status.
When I asked her how she stays motivated, Traci said, “I give myself this advice: Keep pushing! There are definitely times I question myself or the situation but I truly believe everything happens for a reason so there is a reason I have not landed my perfect full-time gig yet. On the bright side, I’ve gained both agency and corporate experience, plus I have been promoted twice in a very short time span (under three years). I’ve had one internship, three contract positions and one full-time job within three entirely different organizations”.
Traci’s advice to Millennials: “Come in early and stay late if you can, and go beyond expectations at every opportunity. And network nonstop.” Public relations opportunities continue to open in the U.S. and abroad, but you have to be willing to take detours along the way to the gig of your dreams.
Ron Culp is professional director of the graduate program in public relations and advertising at DePaul University. In addition, Ron consults in the areas of corporate, government and agency communications, and he writes a popular PR career blog,www.culpwrit.com.