When Did Experience Stop Mattering in Communications? Part I

When you company reputation is on the line, strategic communications experience matters.

Who is getting hired in the communications field is such an important topic that I’ve decided to divide what I had originally written into two separate blog posts, the second of which I will publish later this week.

Why I wrote this post

The nexus of these posts was when I was researching and recording an enlightening, frightening yet cathartic “For Immediate Release” podcast last week, “Gray Hair on the Digital For Immediate Release: Mark Story and Jennifer Stauss talk about ageism and digitalTeam” with Shel Holtz and Jennifer Stauss. During this process, I realized that there is a real problem in the way that communicators over the age of 40 are being viewed.  That problem is that too many really good and experienced communications professionals are being overlooked or cast aside in the job market for one inexplicable fact:  their date of birth.  The podcast discussing this issue is below.

The communications skill sets I built over my career

Corporations and organizations need someone steering the ship who has experience doing it all.

I have had the good fortune not only to have worked all over the world, in government and private sector and in the greatest training ground in comms – the agency world – that I learned what strategic communications really is.  It’s storytelling. And I learned it on the fly, in different environments and in different cultures, all of which train you to watch, learn, adapt and react quickly. Strategic communications is made up so many disparate pieces that, if not put together and executed properly, can hinder an organization’s efforts to tell its story.  This means that your marketing communications need to be in alignment with your social media, media relations, public affairs and executive positioning – messaging, branding, you name it.

So to the recruiters and/or others who view the “gray hairs” as people who just don’t get it, I suggest that you think differently. Not only do get GET IT, I get a whole lot else and see how it all fits together and that is the benefit of having a diverse professional background full of different experiences.

During my career, I have worked in marketing communications, public affairs, public relations, media relations, investor relations, internal communications, crisis communications, executive positioning, litigation communications, digital and I am sure other fields that I have long since forgotten.

I have done the jobs above in a Communist country, in the U.S., Europe, and South America in two global public affairs and public relations agencies, in two U.S. federal government agencies and for myself as a sole practitioner.  I’ve done online and offline communications about securities law in the financial crisis of 2008, have been part of the largest I.P.O. in history as well as the largest bankruptcy filing in history. That is called “experience,” even if it does indicate that I have a little gray hair. But isn’t that a good thing?

I have also TAUGHT public relations, writing and digital at the graduate school level for more than 10 years.  Bringing along the next set of amazing communicators is a personal passion.

Why experience matters – good storytelling

Where and how did I learn and deploy these skills?  The answer is a lot of places (print, online, radio, TV, direct mail, speeches, town halls, the web and social media) and the other answer is that IT DOESN’T MATTER.  If you are an innate storyteller, it’s simple if you focus on the fact that you are telling a story to get someone to feel a certain way or take a certain action.  Here’s how I see it:

Good storytelling by strategic communicators

Good storytelling by strategic communicators

Yes, experience matters

To understand that experience matters, one needs to go to the Ground Zero of communications and ageism, doing social media in the workplace.   As I noted in my blog post last week, many highly experienced communicators in their 40s and 50s started out doing something else related to communications so we understand that digital is merely one of the tools (“channels” in the chart above) that one can use to communicate effectively.  We are not “digital natives” and that is a plus – we KNOW that digital is not always the answer and that many issues are highly nuanced and may require several different skill sets to be effective.   We don’t have a hammer, so everything does not look like a nail.

Part II of my thinking on this is coming soon, much of which we discussed on the For Immediate Release podcast last week.

Please let me know what you think in the comments.




  1. Well said Mark, from a fellow grey hair.

  2. Thought you might enjoy this post (The Guru Paradox)

    an excerpt from my book ‘The Age of Metapreneurship’, which in part covers some of the struggles of the more seasoned entrepreneurs and executives today.


  3. […] This is a follow-up on my intro post about the topic. […]

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