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 City, The 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.”