When PR firms post ads seeking new staff, they invariably cite a required number of years of experience. What seems increasingly clear is that when the ad sets a target of, say, “five or more” years of experience, they really mean “not much more.”

In the spirit of full-disclosure, after a 35-year career at PR firms large and small, three years ago I chose to start my own consultancy as a sole practitioner. Others of my industry contemporaries when confronted with the need to search for a new job have chosen a more traditional road; one paved with resumes, recruiters, networking and interviewing.

John Berard
By John Berard
Most are still enroute.

Their experiences have led me to an insight. A profession dependent on moving quickly and effectively on behalf of clients confronting new markets or challenges to their reputation is shying away from people who may be among those best able to get that job done. It is understandable, but it is not defensible.

It is understandable for two reasons.

First, it is a legacy of an industry long uneasy about managing the career expectations of staffers with widely different capabilities and changing demands. People at the same level, making the same money and who are (mostly) the same age are easier to manage.

As the agency world churned through Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Gen Y and Millennials, each with their different demands, equalizing experience became one of the few strategies for peace and quiet in the workplace.

Second, it is a reflection of agency anxiety over how to respond to the incredibly fast, non-stop digital and social media transformation of the communications universe. Young media, they seem to be saying, is the natural province of the young.

Neither view is defensible; because they ignore the ways we have all changed.

Senior and savvy PR professionals with the insight that comes from years of service are clearer-eyed in their desire to make a contribution without worrying about building a career. What’s happening now is more important than what might happen next.

Titles have become less about ego and more a sign post for clients. Salaries are now more important for well-being than as a unit of competitive measurement. And the goal is good work, not some destination over the next hill. This adds up to great opportunity for agencies – and for all those professionals with a lot more than five years’ experience.

More than a product of a tough economy, these changes are the result of a record of achievement, a sense of perspective and an understanding that reputation is personal, not a by-product of a business card. By ignoring this significant shift in the expectations of people who’ve already earned their varsity letter in PR, agencies are missing more than a beat; they are leaving money on the table.

And technology is no bar, either.

There is a reason the average age of gamers continues to rise, the expansion of social networks is accelerating faster among older age groups and new technologies like Near Field Communication have a chance to gain a payments foothold. My friends are all playing, in contact online and carrying smart phones.

In fact, everyone with the kind of energy, understanding and network of contacts that agencies prize are among the most active in and aware of the effect of new technologies. Even better, they are less likely to be distracted by the newest bright, shiny digital object and keep a sharp focus on telling the story.
Agencies willing to listen to the stories my friends are capable of telling could find themselves with a competitive advantage because account teams built to maximize capability rather than minimize management headaches can help win and keep clients.

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John Berard heads San Francisco-based Credible Context. He is the former CEO of advertising software start-up Rabio Corporation and previously ran the West Coast offices and operations for Fleishman-Hillard, FitzGerald Communications and Zeno Group.