Today in New York magazine, regular contributor Ann Friedman becomes one of the first journalists to offer extended commentary on an unspoken issue within the public relations industry: media relations push-pull is in many ways a game of girls versus boys. And that’s not a good thing.
We’re oversimplifying, of course:
“While there are many men in PR — including 80 percent of upper management — it’s women, often young women, who are likely to be doing the grunt work of sending emails and writing tweets and cold-calling contacts. The very work that journalists, and the rest of us, are likely to see as fluffy.”
Do go on…
“…it’s clear that this work is important and valuable. Not to mention quite challenging.”
Here’s Beyonce’s less nuanced take on that point:
We all know that the work done by PR is every bit as nuanced and, in its own way, valuable as the completely separate work done by everyone else in the larger media equation.
“Yet the profession remains synonymous with the worst female stereotypes.
So why do we associate PR professionals with mindless fakery rather than hard-won relationships and quick thinking?”
The “blame pop culture” explanation isn’t really working, Samantha Jones and her ilk aside. Here’s a far better summary:
“A journalist is rarely going to admit they got a great idea from a press release. [Ed. note: well, yeah...] Someone who downloads an app or attends an event usually won’t pause to think, “How did I hear about this?” We only notice PR work when it goes horribly awry.”
…which brings us back to the basic problem: the more successful PR work is, the less obviously visible it is to the public. And self-promotion turns off many of those who aren’t fellow PR travelers.
Unfortunately, Friedman’s piece doesn’t even really attempt to find a solution to the conundrum. PR will, for the most part, remain a discipline most appreciated by those who work in the industry and those who interact with us/them on a regular basis.
Of course, that’s not a strictly gender-based issue…
Let’s face it, though: pop culture certainly isn’t helping.
We’re still waiting for the prominent (female) PR expert who can become an influential public figure without attracting negative attention. Until then, most people will base their impressions of the discipline on characters who are fictional, exaggerated…or both.