How to combat ageism in the PR industry

The wisdom and experience of tenured PR pros shouldn’t be discarded lightly. One PR leader offers tips on fighting back and showing value regardless of the generation to which you belong.


It used to be that “long on experience” was a badge of honor. How times have changed.

Discrimination against older and experienced workers has existed for many years, but today it has become a routine practice in technology and many other industries. A quick search on Google yields 13.8 million results and narrowed down to news produces 214,000 results. Publishers from Pro Publica and Orange Country Register to Foreign Policy are penning pieces about this pervasive phenomena.

A recent piece in Foreign Policy notes that the population of people aged 60 and above will double to 2 billion in the next 30 years and portends ageism will be with us for many years to come. Some recent statistics from Built In are cause for alarm:

  • Ten percent of people aged 65-69 are employed.
  • Twenty percent of workers are aged 55+ (50% are employed).
  • Fifty-eight percent of workers notice age bias first-hand when they enter their 50’s.
  • Thirty-three percent of people believe their age is putting job at risk.
  • Seven percent of people report losing job due to age discrimination.
  • Twelve percent of people lose out on promotion due to age bias.
  • It takes an average of 46 weeks for boomers to find a new job
  • Of companies that have D&I strategies, only 8% include age.
  • Seventy-two percent of women aged 45-74 believe people experience workplace age discrimination.
  • Fifty-seven percent of men aged 45-74 believe people experience workplace age discrimination.
  • Fifty-nine percent of workers who are white experience age discrimination.
  • Seventy-seven percent of workers who are black experience age discrimination.
  • Sixty-one percent of workers who are Hispanic or Latino experience age discrimination.

Forewarned is forearmed

Consider these warning signs of ageism that you could be subjected to when “push comes to shove:”

  • No promotions.
  • Performance reviews have disappeared.
  • Career development and training is off the table.
  • Salary increases decline.
  • Plum assignments go to younger people.
  • Supervisors whisper in your presence.
  • You are passed over for new challenges.
  • You are not invited to client meetings.
  • An anonymous public job posting reads like your current role.

While there are no silver bullets when battling age bias in the job market, there are several means to attempt to counteract its dire impacts.

Whither chronological order

“I’m Not Done” author Patti Temple Rocks notes, “We are all a collection of skills and experiences. We have to know how to translate what we have done and move away from chronological list. Don’t buy into the chronological résumé. Everyone brings value to the table in different ways. Identify what makes you stand out and craft your résumé appropriately.”

Make people feel something

As public relations professionals, we are all storytellers. Customize your resume in a way that will make people feel something and take action. Craft a narrative that positions you for the specific opportunity you are seeking and will differentiate you from everyone else. What’s to stop us from doing something very distinctive? It demonstrates initiative, creativity and uniqueness.

Show up different

As storytellers we often find ourselves carving a very unique pitch to grab the attention of a journalist or reporter. A job search can be thought of and acted on in that same vein.

Customizing your resume is hard work but will help. Scott Monty, social media raconteur of Ford Motor fame, cites two such examples that illustrate the point. One job seeker created a targeted Google ad directed at a specific hiring manager. And when the hiring manager went to search for a particular term, a link to the job seeker’s portfolio appeared and included a narrative by the job seeker on the rationale for their interest in the company. In another case, an individual created a podcast episode that was placed on iTunes with the link transmitted to the hiring executive. These unconventional techniques can be the unique device to get a hiring manager’s attention.

Five magic words

Monty says one of the biggest problems with ageism is that people make assumptions on what work someone older is looking for. “It is unfair to assume, just because someone is older, that they expect a higher salary and seniority.”

Hiring managers and candidates alike need to communicate and manage expectations. Monty recommends using five magic words, “Tell me more about that.”

We are more than a single dimension. We need to seek to understand in order to be understood. It is time to move away from assumptions and explore outside of the norm, communicating openly and effectively to get through to the person on the other side of the interview table.

Work the network

Let’s face it: Job boards are more like “Job Bored.”

The chances of landing a new gig from a job posting are likely slim to none. The network is the way in. Chances are by the time a job is posted, it is likely filled. Work your network hard and seek to find the actual hiring manager and then look at your connections to see who can open the door to the appropriate person. Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and seek out everyone who can make short work of a hard reach.

Career shift

Consider creating something that uniquely fits work you can do and fashion a method that enables you to convincingly approach an employer.

It could be a part time gig for a task that you can do in a time frame much shorter or at a cost much less than a full time employee. Rocks cites a case where pharmacy chain CVS created positions for people looking to work fewer months out of the year and wanted to work in the U.S. South where CVS was seeing increasing demand at certain parts of the year due to population shifts. That said, you should never sell yourself for less than you are worth, but you can create a different job. Considering flexible opportunities can be a win-win for everyone.


If all else fails, consider guidance from the American Association of Retired People. Talk with a company executive, document everything, lodge a complaint, get an attorney, inquire with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, consider mediation—and last, but not least, file a lawsuit.

Consider these resources to learn more about ageism:


Gerard “Gerry” F. Corbett is CEO of strategic public relations firm Redphlag, past chair, CEO and Fellow of PRSA, board member of PRSA Silicon Valley and former CCO of several Fortune 200 firms.


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