When publicists need a publicist

Guest Post by Lauren Begley, Peppercom

Aliwise This past July, publicist Ali Wise was accused of hacking into the voicemail system of her ex’s new girlfriend. Despite these charges and the unflattering light that is now cast on her personal and professional life (her employer Dolce & Gabbana gave her the boot), Wise has refused to step out of the spotlight.

Just last week, she was spotted at multiple fashion events in Manhattan and while she’s keeping mum about the legalities of the situation, it hasn’t stopped her from commenting on her possible jump into reality TV. More recently, this trained public relations professional hired her own publicist—none other than Matthew Hiltzik, who has previously done damage control for Jane Friedman, Don Imus and Annie Leibovitz.

And so we have another front page (or maybe Page 6) story about a publicist gone bad, adding fuel to the fire created by shows like MTV’s PoweR Girls, which depicts young, beautiful women in big cities planning parties, hanging out with celebrities and creating a ‘buzz’ by any means possible.

Even more absurd, a recent story line on Gossip Girl depicted Manhattanite Serena Van Der Woodsen receiving a job offer to work for a publicist based solely on her ability to attract paparazzi—with complete disregard for the fact that her character has no college education and zip work experience.

Could this be why PR is still considered a “dirty word” in some circles, or why the general consensus is that “publicity” is managed by the cliché “PR girls” featured on these programs? I’ve experienced it personally, even in casual conversation with friends and acquaintances. Based on the questions I’ve been asked about my job (“Which celebrities do you represent?” “Don’t you just spin the truth?” “Do you get free stuff from companies like [enter luxury brand]?”). I’m certain that many people outside of the field think of PR as party planning and creating buzz at any cost—a no-brain job for cute girls who photograph well.

I got into the field of public relations for many reasons. I love writing and thinking creatively. I enjoy problem solving and working with teams. I have a vested interest in connecting relevant groups of people, particularly through social media. But these elements of the job are often lost amidst the image and reputation exuded by episodes of PoweR Girls and headlines featuring the likes of Ms. Wise.

So what can we do? We need to be proactive advocates for our profession. We need to value and recognize those female innovators in our field who embody out-of-the-box thinking, sound business ethics and determination to move the profession forward. Only then can we shake the “PR girls” image.

8 thoughts on “When publicists need a publicist

  1. Right on! I have often said that if we could eradicate the word “spin” from any description of the PR profession that would be a great thing. One of the questions I got after a recent talk at the University of Kentucky was “Why does the public have a poor view of what PR people do?” I think the way we are depicted in the media–as party planners (remember Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones?) and worse–is one reason. We need a PR for PR campaign to show the value we bring to organizations and individuals. I’m sure we can make what we really do sound pretty interesting.

  2. Hi Lauren –
    I think the perception of air-headed “PR gals” as gloried party-planners is fueled by TV shows that mainly feature so-called publicists in the “glamour” industries — fashion, beauty, sports, luxury goods, entertainment. The general public rarely (if ever) gets to see a woman as EVP of Corporate Communications at a bank, insurance company or government agency.
    And yes, Lunch Boy, Tiger Woods could use a good lesson in Crisis Communications and Reputation Management…before all his endorsements dry up.

  3. right, i hear you and that is how i read it, but my belief is that complaining about it (or other things) usually gets you nowhere fast (see Repman vs. Comcast Customer Care).
    pop culture will continue to send mixed signals (it depends on the smarts of the receiver) …it is up to you/women to shine the light on those ‘positive attributes’ versus complaining about what is being perceived.
    Lunch Girl did face another problem in the PR industry – that it is an ‘old boy’s network’ – and had enough. she is now in the insurance industry and doing quite well. interestingly enough, she faced many similar problems, but beat them in her new field. and she didn’t do it by complaining, she has succeeded by doing.

  4. The point of this post wasn’t to bash luxury/fashion client representation. Rather I wanted to examine how the PR profession, in general, is depicted in pop culture and among those outside of the field. Because of the emphasis on this “PR girl” image, a lot of the positive attributes within this profession are overlooked.
    Sorry to hear you don’t find this post relevant. Maybe Lunch Girl would have.

  5. couldn’t the argument be made that continuing to fan this fire will keep the perception going strong? the PR industry is growing and like it or not, these gals add to the bottom line. Dolce & Gabbana and other companies in fashion have a PR need and these girls fill it. so what? yes, it is irrelevant to most (including you and me), but not all. if female innovators in this field want recognition, they should either pitch what makes them so great, or maybe hire Hiltzik. (I was hoping to read a Tiger story today – much more relevant in this eater’s eyes).