If most of the publicists you know are female, you’re not alone. The Institute of Public Relations says that the PR world is dominated by women. And according to some studies, the field of PR is now actually 70% female (compared to back in 1987, when there were 20 females for every 80 males).
Which makes it seem like public relations is a very good field to be a woman right now. But from conversations I’ve had, most of those female publicists didn’t choose publicity, it chose them. They started in different careers, or lucked into their first PR job, and it just stuck.
That is especially interesting considering how many women have actively started their own companies in the field.
Inna Shamis, President and CEO of AvantGarde Communications Group, has been in the industry for her entire professional career–16 years–after “stumbling” into it after college. It was classes in journalism, television and PR that made her realize that it was indeed the right industry for her.
Susan Becher, who founded Susan Becher PR in 1982 (although has since changed the name to Susan Becher & Associates) was another woman who sort of “fell” into it. Having a deep appreciation for beautiful designs, and contemporary architecture, Becher bounced around the industry during her 20s, then started working at Design Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was when she met her husband and decided to start a family that they moved to New York City and Becher decided to open her own firm.
In contrast, Lauren Cerand, Principal at Lauren Cerand Public Relations, moved in the direction of PR slowly, by circumstance and interest in other fields. Cerand originally studied finance, then transferred her major to Industrial & Labor Relations at Cornell University. After graduation, the only job she could find was in a union. Citing that besides organizing while in that industry – which didn’t fit her personality – she found a home in the media end of things: “After a few years at various unions, all in the same public relations capacity, I switched over to cultural projects: books, films, music, art, etc.”
Lindsey Green, partner of Kinda Sorta Media, whose clients include Of a Kind and VYou, was a general manager with her sights set on fashion. When the opportunity arose to work in PR at Jill Stuart, she jumped at the chance:
“When I made the first leap into PR it was because I had an interest in fashion. I had been with a digital company before and wasn’t sure yet where the start up world was going.
I was really excited by all the start ups I saw coming out of my own social circle which has always been a digital centered group and wanted to provide a service of communications strategy which I felt was missing for early start ups, especially during their launch phase. After three years as the Communications Director at Jill Stuart, I decided to make the switch back to a community that I had an incredible passion for and thus left [in 2010] to join Kinda Sorta Media as a partner to help guide start ups with both strategy consulting and communications.”
When it came to starting their own companies, there was no hesitation for these women. Shamis had worked in corporate public relations for 9 years. After doing her time she was ready to start her own firm because “it affords me the ability to follow my instincts, and the license to work with clients I want versus those dictated by someone else,” she explains. And as she also points out, it’s also quite the incentive to be your own boss. [tagbox tag="public relations"]
Cerand was pushed into starting her own PR company because agencies did not consider online media to be a real job:
“When I first applied to agencies, as well as other organizations in 2003 or thereabouts, and stated in a matter-of-fact way, that I fully intended to focus on online media, people would tell me that was a) pointless and b) it’s not a job. This continued for a number of years while I built up successful campaigns for clients in the meantime. I always thought I’d work in-house. Eventually, I didn’t need to.”
For Becher, her 29-year-old firm has become less about PR and “more about the world of her clients.” In opening her own firm, she was able to pick and choose the clients with whom she wanted to wanted to work and those whose careers she wanted to help shape and mold. She currently has four female associates who work for her, but she was quick to point out that a man will be joining their team in September.
With the current ratio of women to men in the PR business being so high, and having risen so drastically since 1987, it might be safe to say that when it comes to public relations, it is indeed a woman’s world. For all of these women, it was the skills that helped them succeed in PR jobs that also helped them launch their own businesses.