Millennial PR Firm Owners Destined to Shake Up Industry

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Millennial communicators can’t catch a break. As they occupy a growing part of the PR field, this demographic bears the brunt of withering criticism from some of their elders regarding their work ethic and general attitude.

We frequently hear from older PR firm owners about the challenges of both hiring and retaining Millennials. They say Millennial employees suffer from an acute sense of entitlement and often want to get promoted before they have demonstrated their PR chops and/or brought in some new business.

PR firm owners also tell us that millennial employees lack interpersonal skills. That’s problematic for the growth of the firm, because account executives — many of them Millennials — need to cultivate relationships with their clients in person and be able to focus on the conversation at hand and not check their smartphone every two minutes.

However, the above description of millennials is just part of the story and, in fairness, may be a victim of stereotypical thinking. This is not to deny the frustrations among PR firm owners about how to manage Millennial communicators more effectively. High-priced media and marketing conferences are marketed and sold on that premise alone.

At the same time, it’s important that older PR firm owners — and the industry at large — recognize the growing phenomenon of millennial PR firm owners.

They might be few in numbers right now, but they are coming on strong. These are PR executives in their 20s and 30s who — in stark contrast to older generations of PR firm owners — are financially and digitally savvy and do not necessarily have a strong emotional bond to their firm.

Not beholden to traditional PR models
Millennial owners may have had a stint or two at a PR firm or launched their agency soon after graduating from college. Either way, they are not wedded to traditional PR business models.

They won’t hire two executives after landing a sizable account only to let those two employees go after the client suddenly departs for another agency. They’re more apt to hire strictly based on strategic imperatives and bring in nontraditional PR employees — online analytics specialists, videographers, etc. — who can monetize social media channels and prepare the firm for a post-digital marketplace.

Millennial PR firm owners also have a sharper focus than previous generations of owners on how to strengthen financial performance, which will add value to the firm. That means they won’t stand for over-servicing and take the time to train employees to ensure the firm in no way works for free.

They know what they don’t know
Millennials have also been criticized for being know-it-alls. However, from my experience, Millennial PR firm owners know what they don’t know and are eager to learn about management practices — hard and soft — that will bolster the top and bottom lines and make the agency a better place to work.

Many older PR firm owners are allergic to disruption, whereas millennial PR firm owners embrace it. Of course, they want to do an exceptional work for clients, grow their agency and generate new revenue streams. But they don’t care how they get there.

Take Anna Ruth Williams, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based ARPR: “Having started ARPR (in 2012) at the age of 28, I hadn’t managed other agencies and therefore wasn’t tied to traditional processes and practices. The result was a high-risk tolerance and tendency to try new strategies,” she said. “My Gen X and baby boomer counterparts balk at some of my decisions, like implementing unlimited vacation, flexible schedules, and generous technology and professional development investments.”

She added: “While the big holding companies are seeing less than one percent growth, we continue to grow 45 percent year-over-year, with 94 percent employee retention.”

As Millennial-run firms become mainstream, we think they’ll have a serious impact on the PR industry. Many of these owners are eager to sell their firm before they are 40 years and move on to the next endeavor. That’s going to bring a significant change to the PR landscape, in terms of more digitally driven PR properties being available to acquire and/or merge.

These changes will evolve. In the meantime, there’s plenty that Millennial firm owners need to know about how to increase profitability and improve the value of their firm, and they’re not afraid to ask. They appreciate that they don’t have all the answers.

But older PR firm owners can learn a thing or two from Millennials, such as how to lead with a digital-first mindset, encourage nontraditional hires and protect the business, at all costs, even if that means turning down a prospect who’s trying to lowball a fair price for PR services.

By mixing and matching the best skill sets from one another, Millennial owners and non- Millennials can boost the overall appeal of the industry among creative services buyers. Millennial firm owners are serious businesspeople and a force to be reckoned with. It’s a juicy story for the PR industry.

Register here for Gould+Partners free Webinar: How Millennial Creative Service Firm Owners Boost Profitability, Spike Valuation and Position Themselves as Thought Leaders. The webinar will take place Tuesday, September 19, from 1:30-2:30 ET