Career Strategies in Public Relations with Heather Yaxley

Wag The Dog’s guest this week is Heather Yaxley and we’re talking about career strategies in public relations.

In the context of her Phd research Heather wanted to understand how mid-career PR practitioners make sense of their careers, the career strategies they use and how they are responding to the changing working environment.

This involved qualitative research of contextualised in-depth interviews. It was UK focused but several of the participants had experience of working outside the UK either on secondments or through work-related travel.

But what Heather talks about has global relevance although she believes that both PR and careers operate within a context of specific socio-cultural environments.

Some bullets of what we covered during our chat:

  • A main driver of Heather’s research is that the world of work has changed over the past three decades, yet the way we understand careers is stuck in a ‘Mad Man’ era.
  • Our experiences of careers are that they are highly unlikely to be based in a single organisation, only the minority of people have PR careers involving a sequence of roles that involve climbing a career ladder and any pathways we follow are twisted and often disjointed.
  • Career advice is largely anecdotal – Heather working on developing a professionalised career framework – and focused on advising young people how to get into a PR role.
  • Experiences and careers of the majority of PR people is under-examined, different career options are rarely considered and we lose a huge amount of talented people from the industry owing to a lack of focus on broader career opportunities.
  • There are opportunities to attract a wider range of people to work in PR, reflect the flexibility of careers within the occupation and challenge thinking and practices that favour particular types of people – hence the industry’s poor record on addressing diversity, inclusivity and equality.
  • Heather’s research findings reveal that there is an inherent flexibility in PR careers, but everyone has what she call ‘knots’ that enable or constrain their career development. Understanding these supports better decision making for individuals and employers. There are the obvious knots such as family ties and rather than seeing these as limitations and barriers, she argues employers and individuals need to look at how to customise opportunities within lifelong careers.
  • Another key finding relates the increasing fluidity of PR careers. Yet recruiters and employers have a tendency to be suspicious of anyone who is entrepreneurial or has crafted a unique career for themselves. This results in risks associated with career mobility, especially for anyone we might think of as a career nomad.
  • Finally, Heather talks about careers as tapestries that we craft over time, not in an orderly way, but to accommodate the tangles of our everyday lives. This involves focusing on what she calls the “kairotic” elements of time – those moments when we reflect on our experiences and how our careers can be developed going forward.

About my guest:

Heather Yaxley describes herself as a “rhizomatic” public relations educator, consultant, academic and author. Her background is in motor industry PR and she’s a director and general secretary of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association, the world’s largest network of motor industry communication professionals.

She’s involved with University and professional qualifications and has a passion for sustainable lifelong learning and careers. She’s a co-editor of PR Conversations and blogs under the name Greenbanana which reflects her believe that if you’re green, you’re growing.

As a member of the team behind a new initiative, MindthePRGap, she’s committed to reducing the gap between academia and practice in PR through applied research, critical thinking and reflexivity.


If you have feedback, questions, remarks or anything else, please let me know via the audio mailbox of Wag The Dog FM.


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