Greetings from the Pink Ghetto: Are Women Ruining Public Relations?
[Note: Before you send hate mail to Jim Crawford, please note that this post was in fact written by Kate Schackai (female), who is easy to find.]
Public relations is many things according to the industry trade coverage: growing, changing, redefining itself, fighting with marketing for control, and now, apparently, wearing lipstick.
It all makes sense now.
As PR Daily reported today, a recent study by Sydney recruiting firm Salt & Shein in Australia identified PR as a so-called “pink ghetto,” chock-full of women and worried, as a result, about “being taken less seriously by management.”
Alright, my fellow 85%ers (in the US market), go ahead and be offended for a second. Got it out of your system? Good — let’s think.
I for one was shocked to discover that women make up such a huge chunk of the public relations industry, and a little less shocked to read that, despite the overall female slant, men still make up 80% of upper management. But upon reflection, I started to see a picture that made sense and, as that anonymous source fretted, could have rather serious consequences.
In my time in PR, what I have seen is a lot of anxiety, from bickering for status in the social media space to the PRSA’s hilarious attempt last year to basically crowdsource a definition of what we as PR professionals do. (Was it a mystery? And did anyone else picture Derek Zoolander’s classic, “Who am I?”) We’ve fallen over each other trying to claim quantified ROI, and raced out to build our networks on every freakin’ social media platform to hit the interwebs (because relationships are the key to this business, right?).
No wonder PR has made the top 10 most stressful professions for three years running — it’s been in a constant state of trying to define/prove/defend itself instead of confidently taking charge of a market that, by all accounts, is going gangbusters.
And now the $64,000 question: does this industry insecurity have anything to do with it being made up, overwhelmingly, of women?
Depends on the women, doesn’t it?
There are clearly female PR pros who take the bull by the horns – Erika Napoletano of RedHeadWriting comes to mind.
But if, as partner Josh Shein opined, women are attracted to PR because of the “softer skill set,” we are in trouble indeed, because soft skills can’t be the basis of really good PR.
The explosive growth of social media may have clouded this point — and it’s at least possible that the huge influx of women in the industry has added to the fog — but the basis of PR is not who you know or how nice you are to them. It’s what you have to say. And the valuable PR person isn’t the one who meekly sends your non-news around to the full list; it’s the one who’s willing to burst your bubble — to rip a draft release or product announcement to shreds in pursuit of what’s newsworthy in it.
It’s the PR person who knows what s/he does — not the one who wonders.
Soft skills make for good packaging, but they can’t be the main event, and if PR has drifted away from hard skills, it had better drift right on back — while retaining some social graces. Using the stereotypes, women in PR should be men+ — sharp, shrewd, and tuned into the value of connections.
Or as the inimitable Bobbie Barrett put it — for you Mad Men fans out there — “Be a woman; it’s powerful business when done correctly.”
Kate Schackai is the Vice President of Crawford PR and co-host of #askthePRpro. She blogs for Crawford on general PR issues, social media value, and professionalism in the age of Twitter.