Marcel Klebba

Marcel Klebba is a PR student at the University of Westminster

We have recently had seen massive, dark and scary clouds over Britain. I am not talking about the very typical weather here, but rather metaphorically, about the Brexit vote. The British nation has decided to leave the European Union. Is that decision going to have an impact on PR graduates? Should we be worried about securing entry-level jobs? How, if at all, is Brexit going to change the industry?

It is a very interesting time to be alive and most certainly to be a PR student. Events that have occurred in the past few weeks will make history and might have an impact on our lives and careers. Leave vote won by 52% to 48%. London has voted to stay. David Cameron resigned the office of Prime Minister and Nigel Farage admitted that one of the biggest slogans of the Leave camp was a “mistake.” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants a second independence referendum. Not forgetting, financial markets — sterling has noted one of the biggest falls in the history. Many corporations have started speculations about moving many jobs from London to the other European cities.

As a PR student finishing my penultimate year of education, I was really curious how this would change the PR industry and whether it is going to impact my fellow students’ and my own chances of securing a dream job in the communications industry. So I asked some industry experts and practitioners to see what their moods and opinions are.

Right after the vote, the Public Relations Consultants Association has announced that a significant nine out of ten industry leaders were disappointed at EU vote result. Director General, Francis Ingham, told me that even though it’s hard to tell now and it will depend on what kind of Brexit we have. It will depend on whether it is going to be inside or outside of the Single Market, what policy does a future Government choose (regarding migration) and what attitude do remaining EU members take. Francis, however, has some reasons for us to be really optimistic:

  1. “the industry grew by a third over the past three years. Ours is a vibrant, growing industry –even if it were to grow a little less quickly in the future, it’ll certainly still be growing
  2. the UK truly is one of only two global hubs of PR excellence (the other being the US). Brexit won’t change that
  3. if you’re looking to work abroad, well, plenty of UK PR practitioners work already in non-EU countries. In countries that already don’t have free movement with the UK. I.e., there’s a demand for UK expertise. That isn’t going to change, and Europe is still going to look to UK PR practitioners for expertise.”

Not great. Not welcome. But not calamitous either

Francis concluded that it’s “Not great. Not welcome. But not calamitous either – PR is a strong enough industry to prosper in or out of the EU. The future’s still bright for PR graduates.

Having previously attended debates about EU Referendum organised by the PRCA, I have really appreciated insights on this topic from David Gallagher, CEO of Ketchum’s European operations, Matt Carter, Founder of Message House, as well as Senior Partner and Founder of Pagefield, Mark Gallagher. I reached out to them and asked for a comment.

uncertainty in the market does tend to have knock-on effects in client spending, the timing of plans and activity and, ultimately, our staffing and resourcing needs

David Gallagher of Ketchum said, “It’s still too early to say with any confidence whether the UK referendum on EU membership will have any impact on graduates looking to find work in the British PR industry. I know our UK agency has not changed its hiring plans, but uncertainty in the market does tend to have knock-on effects in client spending, the timing of plans and activity and, ultimately, our staffing and resourcing needs. For us and for other agencies, I suspect it will be business as usual for the short term, and wait-and-see for the longer term.”

PR is also an industry build for moments like these

Matt Carter of Message House was of an opinion that “Brexit shouldn’t put off aspiring PR professionals from considering the industry. There may be difficult times ahead for the UK economy but PR is as well placed to cope as other sectors, if not better. It’s modern, creative, digital and requires in-depth local knowledge, meaning it is not as easy to relocate overseas.

PR is also an industry build for moments like these. At a time when business and politics are increasingly disconnected from large segments of society, public relations have an even more important role to play in acting as a conduit of stakeholder opinion to the top table.”

Longer term, your prospects look terrific

Similarly to the other practitioners, Mark Gallagher of Pagefield, commented that Brexit should not be giving graduates sleepless nights. He admitted that “On balance, I don’t think Brexit will have much impact one way or another on graduate employment prospects. There may be a down tick or a pause in employment brought about by the rather melodramatic – if entirely predictable – reaction of the markets. But that’s in the very short term. Longer term, your prospects look terrific. Those of us who campaigned for a Brexit anticipate a healthy dose of market liberalisation, deregulation and some much needed additional investment in housing and infrastructure to better unite London with the nations and regions.  I’d anticipate a massive push for Britain to become a beacon of free trade, offering tariff free trade to any one of the world’s 190 odd trading nations: think Singapore on a grand scale.” He has summed up with a cheerful “Let’s put it this way – I’d much rather be a graduate in 2016 than when I arrived here in London in 1991. Hello world!“

the PR community and industry is adaptable and able to withstand change

I have also heard from Natasha Plowman, Founder of Spinning Red Ltd. Natasha very accurately started that “The world is a very difficult place to predict at the moment.” She continued, “The news is moving at a rate of knots and until we get any kind of certainty predicting the future is hard. That being said, the PR community and industry is adaptable and able to withstand change. Especially now as we are so much more connected through technology. The days of face to face networks is gone and we are tied through ideas, social platforms and more.

The key attributes that will secure young people jobs in the PR industry hasn’t changed and won’t. It is curiosity, a desire to learn and connect with the world. To tell stories and to have a view. Brexit is uncertainty, and uncertainty that could last years. That is never good for anyone starting out, but time will tell the true impact on trade and business.”

PR Consultant, Lianne Robinson, admits “In those early days of gloom and fear, the companies who acted fast and wanted to weather the storm found they needed PR advice more than ever as they worked hard to reassure their stakeholders.” Lianne reassured that “in such volatile markets, it became vital for organisations to be much more visible and out there promoting positive messages.”

She has also added that “There is an element of crisis communications for any organisation at one time or another, and for a PR professional, the skills you learn during these times, for example the need for speed, accuracy and diplomacy, will carry you in good stead throughout your career.”

It is too soon to estimate the effect of Brexit on PR careers

What was the reaction of academia? Trish Evans, Course Leader of the Public Relations and Advertising Course at the University of Westminster told me “It is too soon to estimate the effect of Brexit on PR careers. At worst, some major companies will relocate from the UK to EU countries, and agencies may follow suit. At best it will never happen. There are many bridges to cross before companies can plan for such change. Meanwhile, I believe the industry will continue to expand and prosper, as long as there is no major slow down in the economy.”

I think Brexit, if it really happens, will create more opportunities for graduates in the short term

A recent graduate, Alex Filicevas, who is currently a Consultant at Cambre Associates, PR & Public Affairs consultancy in Brussels, has shared some rather positive thoughts regarding Brexit.

“I think Brexit, if it really happens, will create more opportunities for graduates in the short term for those looking to work in Public Affairs both in UK and Brussels, as clients will be looking for help to navigate through legislative changes. In the long term, there’s a lot of uncertainty for a wider PR industry as without the single market UK agencies might be loosing out to EU colleagues for pan-European projects. In the end, it will depend what our generation makes of it, there are always opportunities around if they’re sometimes a little difficult to find.”

Students will now have to be more determined, skilled and savvy

I have also asked a current PR student about her thoughts. “As a student, I was worried about the result of the referendum,” started Siobhan Filsell from the University of Greenwich. “Hearing the Brexit results that morning felt like somebody crushing all my future dreams. I only saw a negative impact for students trying to get into the industry. A few weeks on from the results and my opinion is still the same. The industry is hard and this vote has now made it harder. Students will now have to be more determined, skilled and savvy to get where they want to be. “

She concluded saying that she has ”just come to accept that I will have to work harder to get where I want to be and now, so will many others.”

All in all, Brexit has been a really shocking event and history has been made. According to the industry experts, grads should not be fearful about their future. There is still a lot of unknown regarding this political move and it is most likely going to be on the news for a long time. For now, one thing is known – the communications industry is thriving and constantly looking out for a talent. That is a relief!

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