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Millennials in public relations

“The Boardroom” chair Chito Maniago and Public Relations Society of the Philippines president Jika Dalupan with module speakers Mon Isberto of PLDT, author Bong Osorio, Pao Pena of Dentsu Jayme Syfu and Nina Terol of McCann Erickson Philippines

In “The Boardroom,” the 24th National PR Congress, I participated in the interface module of the gurus and millennials. Mon Isberto of Smart/PLDT and myself, representing Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), were on the guru side, while Pao Pena of Dentsu Jayme, and Nina Terol of McCann Erickson, represented the millennials.  The session was a delightful exchange of ideas that ended on a happy note: the various generations must agree to disagree, but peacefully coexist, and respect each other’s space. Let me share my take on the discussion:

The millennial stereotypes: They are connected 24/7, love celebrity, understand the role of brands, care for the environment, live and die by their mobile phone, believe they change the world, are overeducated, optimistic, entitled, have short attention spans, crave content, and tend to over-share. There are 1.8 billion of them in the world — 85 million in the US and about 35 million in the Philippines.

The PR profession is in the midst of a transition. This is created by what the Arthur Page Society defines as a “disruptive shift” that is altering the context for business and society. The disruption is caused by the convergence of three major forces: the digital network revolution, the reality of globalization, and the empowerment of new stakeholders.

As with all professions, PR is grappling with how to adjust to the demographic shift. This is compounded by the fact that some PR professionals are taking an increasingly important role as members of the executive team. The traditional career progression leading to PR leadership positions is in flux. As the Pew Research Center revealed, Boomers continue to turn 65 years old at the rate of 10,000 per day and are prepared to leave the workplace, and a new generation has to take over and dominate.  Generation X, which falls between the Boomers and Millennials, is too small to fill employment needs. Thus, millennials are the de facto successors. The need for them to step into leadership positions earlier in their careers is truly a daunting reality for them.

There are upsides and downsides to millennial takeover. Millennials are commonly perceived as entitled, but this can be turned around if we view them as empowered. They have great strengths that have uniquely prepared them for futures in public relations. They have been raised to be leaders, and a majority has already defined themselves as leaders. They have grown up with a global perspective and access to the World Wide Web. Many are supremely confident, mostly because they’ve been empowered by parents, teachers and coaches to make decisions like leaders for most of their lives.

On the downside, although millennials are the most highly educated generation in history, they have “deficiencies across the board”: basic skills like reading, writing, and math, and applied skills like critical thinking and problem solving. The knowledge gaps are large and they have a tendency to confuse effort with quality. They lack the “focus, critical analysis, and deeper thinking” needed for higher-level assignments.

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Public relations competencies must be developed. If millennials have to assume leadership positions, they will have to understand, imbibe, adopt and embrace several public relations capabilities in three categories: PR knowledge, which includes business literacy, communication models and theories, ethical practice, corporate governance and corporate social responsibility; PR skills, which cover persuasive writing, presentation, negotiation, client servicing, account management, researching, planning, implementing and evaluating programs; PR values of teamwork, problem solving, initiative and enterprise, planning and organizing, self-management, learning , technology, media relations, blogger relations, crisis communication management, and using information technology efficiently. Millennials need to understand and live the primary roles attached to the PR profession. They have to be enablers, relationship builders, nurturers, communicators, influencers, strategic thinkers and counselors, and integrated marketers.

Older practitioners expect millennials to have the maturity and knowledge required by the profession. They must have that sense “of evolving, and of understanding the more subtle innuendoes of politics and relationships.” And while they have the specialized ability to provide content and technical skills for social media, they are also expected to have the ability to manage social media — a skill that requires experience and additional training.

Ramon Isberto said, “It is easy to understand millennials — leave them alone and let them do their jobs. But this is only possible if you already know what you want. They need to understand the constancy of change and that they cannot settle down. They need to keep up with change, or go ahead of it.”

Paul John Pena articulated, “It is never enough to be contented with what we do; we need to avoid becoming dinosaurs or ancient. Digital is already mainstream, but not everything is about it. We need to forget digital if we need a real, life-changing solution. It is just one aspect, and going beyond it will unlock a lot of potential. Now is the time to weigh in on influencers. When asked what’s the compromise for gurus and millennials, he answered, “Humility. Millennials need to be humble to be open to learn from their predecessors, to accept and embrace that we don’t know everything and have the world to learn yet.”

Nina Terol said that PR is all about partnerships and relationships. She shared five fundamental precepts in connecting with stakeholders: relationship is a two-way; when you’re on top, work to pull everyone up; when you care, give without expectations; age doesn’t matter; and an attitude of gratitude goes a long way.

John Maxwell stated, “Competence goes beyond words. It’s the leader’s ability to say it, plan it, and do it in such a way that others know what you know how — and know that they want to follow you.” 

The challenge is for millennials to pursue, embrace and nurture the authentic essence of public relations — great performance that delivers great results.

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Email bongosorio@gmail.com for comments, questions or suggestions. Thank you for communicating.

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