A ‘Star Wars’ Approach to Addressing Ageism

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I recently met fellow PR consultancy and agency owners from around the world at the PRSA Counselors Academy 2024 Section Conference. It was a homecoming for many Counselors members. For me, it was the first time I had met many of my online peers in person.

I was more than just a conference attendee at this experience. My topic was selected for a special IGNITE presentation during the conference. IGNITE presentations energize the crowd with fun and actionable tips in just 10 minutes. I agreed I was up for the challenge and then realized — wait, that’s like a TED talk! Making an impactful point in just 10 minutes was a feat — but I guess the force was with me. My talk on “How to Fight Ageism like Yoda” was a hit. Here are the top points I shared with the crowd.

I’m not a huge “Star Wars” fan, but I wanted to tie creating a timeless brand to something relatable. Legendary Jedi Master Yoda is a symbol of aging well because his wisdom transcended his body in the first “Star Wars” movies. 

Then, his image was reinvigorated and reimagined in the next series of films. And who hasn’t seen Baby Yoda — or Grogu, the younger character’s actual name — on merch lately? Analyzing Yoda can show us how we can proactively shape (and evolve) our personal brands. 

Change with your brain. 

Our brains are said to be built for fluid intelligence in the beginning phase of our lives. The brain is great at acquiring lots of information. Think about what a sponge you were in the first decade or so of your career. Then, as we age into midlife and beyond, that aspect of our brain intelligence declines.

However, our crystallized intelligence continues to increase and can increase from then on. This means we’re better at picking up patterns and “seeing the big picture.” The good news is that, like Yoda, we can be master planners, teachers, trainers and advisers as we age. 

Evolve your image. 

There’s an unspoken pressure to be the right age, have the right look or come from the right place in certain careers. For PR pros, we can rise above superficial biases if we project a wise, timeless brand. Dispute irrelevancy with wisdom. Our bodies will change as we age, but the wisest person in the room grows in value over time. But we can’t get stuck in our ways. 

Author Chip Conley says we should be “modern elders” and go deep in some areas but be curious and willing to learn new skills. We can mentor those coming after us and learn from them, too. Consider updating your vocabulary and even your attire as time passes. 

Demonstrate your strength. 

Those who stay calm during chaos and lead the way can earn great money and respect. Experience is a benefit during crises, and crisis communications and reputation management are specialties we can show Jedi strength in as we age.

Evaluate all; adopt few.

I polled what pros wanted to hear about during this talk and most asked how to keep up with all the changes in public relations. Keep up by sharing that responsibility! Delegate monitoring for changes in the media, industry tools and what’s new in the communication landscape to your team. Have those in the informational stage of their careers report back a summary of highlights — which helps them better synthesize information. Evaluate all the new shiny tools — but be strategic about what you adopt. Over 100 years old, the Page Principles of PR still hold value today. 

As PR counselors, we shouldn’t drop the fundamentals of practice for something that may be trending today but gone tomorrow. Our ability to decipher what’s important and what’s not will be priceless as life gets noisier. 

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