Confessions of a 40-Year Old PR Virgin

Twenty years ago, the then 31-year old consumer PR guru Matthew Freud famously
said, “There’s nothing sadder than a 40-year-old PR person.”

When he was asked seven years later if he stood by the remark, Freud famously
retorted that he made the remark as he assumed he’d be out of the game by 30 –
which given that he’s just re-launched his company and brand for the ‘digital age’ at
50-plus, we can only conclude he doesn’t really stand by the claim so much these

(Freud himself is quite a complex character, by the way, as this interesting recent
profile in the London Evening Standard shows – it’s a good read, actually, check it

keepcalmBut you know what… a lot of people probably do think he’s on to something here. PR
is still seen as a thing young, super-trendy, usually slightly posh females get up to –
all partying, being rather superficial, the kind of wonderful caricature Jessica Hynes
got so right with her wonderful Siobhan Sharpe TV character. (who by the way regular readers know I truly adore!).

I want to talk about this a little bit today, as Freud’s remark was the subject of quite a
hilarious discussion with a colleague recently. (The fact we are both female and on
the better side of 30 may have been a factor in why the subject struck us as so
fascinating.) I was reminded of a conversation I had with a Financial Adviser when I
was setting up the business twenty years ago, who asked me when I planned to retire;
at that age, he might as well have been asking me if I ever planned to write another
book in the Narnia series, it seemed so fantastical and removed from my then reality.

But you know what, it’s not so fantastical a question today. (Don’t panic, I’m about as
near retiring as I am from doing the Narnia book – but never say never, right?) Life
moves on and experience accumulates. I was never the slightly posh dizzy Siobhan
even on my best day in this way of making a living, but I am certainly not that today.
So, Carrie Bradshaw blog style, I need to type the question… Am I a ‘sad’ 40-year old
PR person?

The right to comment
I am going to say not, for reasons that I think make sense – and which connect in my
mind with what Sarum is all about these days in terms of the UK B2B PR and
communications world too (reassuringly!).

I didn’t come into PR the Matthew Freud way anyway I transitioned into this field
after an intense few years working in sales in a rather large relational database
company some of us humourously refer to as ‘’Orrible.’ So I never did the whole
Siobhan handing out goodie bags at press conferences and asking if they’d got the
release. I do think that if you are still doing that kind of work 20 years after you come
out of Uni it would be sad, by the way; probably a sign that you’d taken a wrong turn
somewhere. I don’t think I did (or have).

That kind of PR is always for young people But not even the meanest agency head
would still have his experienced people do that. What Freud meant, I think, was that
if you don’t go up the apple tree a bit by the time you’re 40 and use different
(management) skills, you’re in the wrong movie anyway.

My clients like me for what I am now and what I have done.  So what’s really
interesting in the UK hi-tech field? The people who are CEOs and MDs of the firms
also worked in places like ‘Orrible… there’s a commonality of experience out here,
where we all served a useful apprenticeship working in the database/enterprise
software market. The people I work with click with me as we share the same scar
tissue and see the world in similar ways… which again, makes me able to offer them
something different than ‘a 40 year old PR’ in the cliché sense can. I have earned a
right to comment by that CV.


Surely it’s time to break out the shampoo?
So my rejoinder to Mr Freud is this; when you’re young and daft you can say things
about what you will or won’t do when you’re older. That doesn’t mean you should be
held hostage to them when you are!


While I wait to hear your take on it,  this ’40 year old PR’ is off to refill the
office ‘Bollie’ pipe. It seems to have run dry!

‘Patsy’ Birt


Founder of Digital PR & Brand Journalism agency, Sarum

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