• Mon, Nov 28 2011

Are Women In PR Just Grown Up Mean Girls?

                                                                                           Samantha Jones: There’s no such thing as bad publicity.
                                                                                           Carrie Bradshaw: Yeah, you would say that, you’re a publicist.

The media has portrayed women who work in PR as having possibly the coolest jobs ever. I mean if my only knowledge of the Public Relations industry was from watching shows like Sex & the CityThe Hills and The City I would say all these women do is plan awesome parties, invite awesome people to them and then try to get cool magazines to cover these events. Plus, they get to wear awesome clothes while doing it. However, that is obviously not true. According to a recent survey conducted by @careercast, PR is the number two most stressful job in the U.S., right after a commercial airplane pilot.The truth is that PR involves juggling multiple projects and deadlines at once, staying current with the latest news across multiple channels, dealing with a slew of different personalities and keeping on top of the latest social media resources.

But one stereotype that has seemed to carry over from media portrayals and into real life is the reputation that the PR industry is full of catty women all fighting against each other and just being super bitchy, for lack of a better word. Perhaps because it is such a female dominated industry (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)a stereotype like this was bound to happen but is it because there are just so many women or does the nature of the industry bring a very fierce sense of competition out? The competition in the PR industry is different because it is not women trying to prove that they are as good as their male colleagues but that they are better than the tons of other women they are competing with in their career. We talked to a number of women about the “mean girl syndrome” dominating the PR industry and if there is any truth to it. [tagbox tag="public relations"]

Raj Thandhi said:

“PR has always been plugged as a highly competitive industry (which it is), and generally people are told that it is really hard to make it in the inner circle. Even before you begin your career you start feeling like you have to guard contacts fiercely and make sure no one is “stealing” your clients. There is also this stereotype that if you don’t have “balls of steel” you won’t make it in PR. It seems like the young women entering the PR world are just mirroring what they see the successful ones before them have done. I am from the other side of the tracks and have always been generous and shared as much information as possible with other women in the industry. I am active in social media and like to “give away” content all time. However, this kinder approach has scared away some potential clients who felt I wasn’t tough enough to handle their accounts.”

Sandy Han said:

“As Publicists – we work extremely hard – behind the scene. I had to fight for every single position, raise, work from the moment I started interning at a fashion company seven years ago. There are many reasons why the PR field is known for cattiness – it’s not an industry where you are required to have a degree – especially the fashion industry. I’ve seen a lot of people get hired as an intern to get their foot in the door then leave in a few months get hired as a Jr. Publicist at a PR agency. I blame the industry not regulating itself, hiring whoever is willing to do the work and almost always for free – while some of us like myself paid the high cost of a college education to get a head start in the career some are allowed to ride the wave of others. So, at the end no its not catty because of the girls who are involved the industry- its the industry itself – we’re all just trying to survive!”

Iris Signature of Salsman PR said:

“It’s true! Possibly it’s because there are so many women in the field and an office can get to feel like a high school clique, but it’s also because of the nature of the industry (getting stories published) and the fact that there’s such tight competition for clients. That, combined with stress of deadlines and working with creative, emotional types makes the claws emerge.”

So perhaps it really is the nature of the industry that requires a type of combative competitiveness or maybe tougher women are drawn to this exciting field? Plus when women work together there does often seem to be more friction, drama, and competition than in workplaces with more gender balance. Look at Kelly Cutrone, founder and head of PR fashion firm People’s Revolution and author of If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You. Her no-nonsense, tell it like it is attitude has put multiple startles in their place on the shows The Hills and The City. She managed to put Lauren Conrad in her place and it was her show! “The more successful you become, and the higher your rank, the more often you have to assume the hunter’s role…The animal kingdom is ruthless, and when threatened, a female wolf will attack. She’s not going to say, ‘Oh, I’m spiritual, come on in! Do you want to sleep with my mate? Do you want to steal my babies?’ She will howl and fight to the f—–g end.”

Jennifer Handshew said:

“The PR industry as a whole is not catty. There are two issues to consider: first, different segments within the industry determine how hard a PR rep has to fight to get the coverage their clients demand. Some PR reps go too far to get coverage, which could be construed as catty. Secondly, certain segments attract certain personalities (e.g., catty), which do work well in respective segments.”

Amy Wiser, Account Director for Borshoff, a strategic communication PR firm in Indianapolis:

“Does the field of Public Relations have a reputation for being “catty?” No. That reputation is only founded on Hollywood movie sets. Sadly, characters like Samantha from Sex and the City have, perhaps, perpetuated a myth about what Public Relations actually is. Public Relations is a serious profession that fosters understanding between groups. True public relations professionals think critically and strategically and use a basic four-step process – research, planning, implementation and evaluation – to help assure effective communications and outcomes. Above all, Public Relations communications are truthful, and practitioners must maintain the utmost professionalism, which includes respect and confidentiality. The notion of “spin” or “PR ploy” makes our blood boil. It implies something false – which good PR professionals detest.”

PR Queen Robin Caldwell said:

“The simplest answer to your first question is the industry has a catty reputation because there is no one managing PR’s reputation, namely the professionals. We can follow a code of ethics that governs our dealings with clients, the public and media but we don’t have a professional code of conduct or ethics that governs how we deal with one another. The respect level of the profession has diminished with the overly-romanticized depictions of publicists and PR practitioners in entertainment media, especially reality TV.

The reputation for cattyness pre-dates the entrance of women into the profession, which didn’t happen in large numbers until the late 1960s when ad agencies hired flacks to seek out media coverage related to their product campaigns. It was cheaper to pay a woman. Until that time, the profession was comprised of men, the spin doctors, who also had reputation and conduct issues. If a journalist loves the scoop, then the flack loves the big media story placement. The cattyness is the nature of the beast and not because there are more women.

The reputation is not false, but it is different within sub-categories of PR and publicity (they are not the same), as well as in the industries, where it is practiced. Corporate PR and publicity breeds less cattiness. You will find it mostly among independents who are hustling for the next contract and in some agencies. Sadly, there can be a “mean girl” element that includes men as well. The Internet has created more cattyness, because now more than ever, the PR practitioner and the publicist have platforms to act out what I consider to be nonsense. In the end, the individual PR rep and publicist have to govern their own behavior.”


What We're Reading:
Share This Post:
  • Dorie Shwedel

    When women talk they are being “Catty” and when men talk amongst themselves, they are sharing information about who can be trusted!

  • Margot W

    Having worked in PR for more than 25 years, I generally feel tremendous support from my female colleagues in the industry in Canada. We cross-refer, we cross-promote, we support each other through rough times, and collaborate on many occasions. If anything, I feel the “sisterhood” is alive, well and thriving. Do we compete for business? Absolutely!

  • Tina Malott

    I have been blessed to have worked with only the most competent yet grounded women in the industry. That said – I am in a different niche than say – publicity and hospitality, so the mean girl syndrome may not be so prevalent in the public affairs and community outreach arena. I can see, however, that this can be a serious issue in the industry. Nice call out!

  • Mary

    I think this is a stereotype about PR and those of us in the thick of it know it’s not true. The industry is competitive, it’s tough and it’s stressful. PR women can be no nonsense, to the point and type A – three character traits of most successful business people. But I also find the women I work with to be supportive mentors to everyone around them. If we were talking about a male-dominated competitive profession, would this question or article even exist? We need to support each other and be proud of our successful women peers.

    The stereotype of PR that I also want to combat is that all we do is throw parties and the industry is basically an extension of university sororities. I work with some of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever encountered in this industry and perhaps, as mentioned above, we need to do some PR for PR.

  • Barb Chamberlain

    This portrayal seems to lose sight of the second word in the name of the profession: “relations.” It also doesn’t square at all with my 14 years of experience in higher ed communications.

    Now, we’re not the fashion industry, so maybe–as some said above–it’s industry-specific. But we ARE competitive. And I’ve found that building strong relationships based on honesty and value for value do far more to advance the reputation of my institution–and land media coverage and social mentions where they matter for us–than cattiness. I work in a medium-sized city and that kind of behavior would definitely come back to scratch me.

    As one example, I started a group a decade ago in my town for the five higher ed institutions’ communications people to get to know each other. We compete for students, sure, but we have more issues in common than those that divide (as with most human endeavors and conflicts).

    Starting the group gave us a platform to work together to address public perception. We share information to make good strategic decisions instead of getting in a budget race to the bottom. (“Well, we HAVE to spend money on that pay-to-play publication because all the other colleges will and we can’t be the only ones missing.” No, they won’t–and I know that because they’re my friends, I asked, and we all agreed it was stupid. Problem solved, budget preserved.)

    If, as Robin said in the article, the Internet has given people more places to act out cattiness, it has also given them more places to demonstrate they’re not the kind of people I’d want to work with. That can’t pay off in the long run.

    @BarbChamberlain

  • Pingback: Does The Field Of Public Relations Need A PR Rep?

  • Kate

    Having worked as an actual public relations professional, not the more Hollywood-friendly “publicist,” for several years, I can tell you that the public relations industry for the most part thinks of the media portrayal of our profession is a major embarrassment to anyone who has ever spent all night awake doing crisis communications, launching a major consumer project or scheduling interviews with outlets across the globe. In all my years in PR, I have never once thrown a Lizzie Grubman-style “party,” although I have planned trade shows, networking events and parties for normal people.

    The entertainment public relations world that is seen on television is maybe 5% of the industry. The rest of us are following ethical guidelines set forth by PRSA, getting additional accreditation and getting a graduate education that would make any CEO, CMO or CFO proud to have us on their team.

    • Gini Dietrich

      I couldn’t have said this better myself.

  • Pingback: TheGrindstone.com Asks Whether Women in PR Have an Attitude Problem - PRNewser

  • Antonia Gomez

    “Plus when women work together there does often seem to be more friction, drama, and competition than in workplaces with more gender balance.” Yes because men have never been known to be competitive. If you’re going to state something as a fact you better have some research to back it up. Not only do I think this is untrue it’s completely sexist.

  • Silvia Cadori

    Having been in “the business” for many, many years, I know how we PR women got this reputation. I have dealt with many women from many different walks of life but the women in this business are the most ruthless, unethical people I have ever met. (Yes, even worse that lawyers.) I know of several that have started their own PR business by stealing their previous employers’ client lists. That’s not only morally wrong but also very unprofessional. Until the women in this business start treating each other with respect, the well-earned reputation for being “catty” will not go away.

  • Cassie Boorn

    I can attest that I have witnessed some cattiness in the two years I have been working in PR. However, with social media continuing to be an integral part of PR I think the ability to protect your contacts and method is a little out-dated. I am one for sharing ideas, contacts and whatever it is that needs to be shared to get the job done.

    This PR Week article seems to be relevant to the conversation you are having here: http://www.prweekus.com/the-new-face-of-pr-girls/article/216850/

  • Bri Clark

    While I have been in PR for years just in different capacities I have experienced the competitiveness or catty nature of the business. But really it’s about we as people…as women who decide how we react. For example that guarding your contacts fiercely tactic is not my method…nor are referral fees.

    I will refer someone in a heartbeat if I am too busy or can’t do as good a job as another person could for the potential client. I know my limitations and I know others strengths. And I am not afraid to support those who deserve it.

    While this attitude has labeled me naive or unprofessional even I will say this. Those people throwing out those attempted insults I easily double in contacts.

  • Pingback: Fast Company tips and other tweets from this past week

  • Roberta Guise

    The problem is in characterizing competitive women as “catty.” When men lash out at each other what do we call that? Drawing a blank? Me too.

    Gender stereotypes persist in part because the descriptions are repeated so frequently, that people end up believing them as true. So let’s start by burying the gendered labels, and instead position highly competitive women as just that: highly competitive.

  • Pingback: Inside PR » Blog Archive » Inside PR 2.80: Relevance Drives Influence

  • Meghan Rodriguez

    I really enjoyed this post and the approach that it took about women in the PR industry. I think there is a stereotype attached to being a woman in the industry, as a result of movies and television shows. I don’t think there are enough examples that portray “real-life” PR professionals who are not catty and considered mean girls. I understand that as a PR professional, there is a fine line to walk between being competitive, but not too competitive and nice, but not let people walk all over you.
    The quotes from the different women really enhanced the post because it gives many points of views. For example, I never realized that it isn’t uncommon to work in fashion PR without a college education. I can understand why that field would be very competitive because you have a mix of people who have gone to college and those who haven’t and they are competing for the same position. This was a great article and I recommend it for any young woman interested in working in this industry.

    Meghan Rodriguez
    Editor, Platform Online Magazine
    http://www.platformmagazine.com

  • Stephanie

    Seriously, get a proofreader … “new startles”?

  • Pingback: Do Fashion Publicists Give The PR Industry A Bad Name?

  • Pingback: Before You Take That PR Job, Consider This

  • Leona

    I think Stephanie just answered your question…
    Please focus on the points instead of picking on trivial errors.

  • Leona

    I think Stephanie just answered your question…
    Please focus on the points instead of picking on trivial errors.

  • Leona

    The nature of the Public Relations profession in itself is about the same reputation-building we learned about in high school and post-secondary school but applied to business situations. Some industries being more competitive (a.k.a. catty) than others, e.g., fashion/retail and entertainment, it is completely logical that they are viewed as being catty. That being said it doesn’t need to be this way, women (and men) in this profession need to assess whether or not they are truly being competitive- focusing on improving one’s own performance, or just catty- focusing on trivial details and undermining. Cattiness is only hitting below the belt, real competitiveness is the knockout punch.

  • Leona

    The nature of the Public Relations profession in itself is about the same reputation-building we learned about in high school and post-secondary school but applied to business situations. Some industries being more competitive (a.k.a. catty) than others, e.g., fashion/retail and entertainment, it is completely logical that they are viewed as being catty. That being said it doesn’t need to be this way, women (and men) in this profession need to assess whether or not they are truly being competitive- focusing on improving one’s own performance, or just catty- focusing on trivial details and undermining. Cattiness is only hitting below the belt, real competitiveness is the knockout punch.

  • Pingback: Big Girl Badge: I Stopped Being A Mean Girl - Beauty Questions

  • Pingback: Portrayal of PR | libertybee

  • Pingback: A Cup of Lee | The Problem With Women In PR