I recently attended a board meeting of the Council of PR Firms (www.prfirms.org).
As one of the original members of the now 10-year-old trade association, I'm one of its biggest supporters. I've often urged owners of midsized and smaller firms to join, since the Council not only represents the creme de la creme, but provides invaluable guidance and input to members. And, unlike its more staid siblings, the Council isn't afraid to tackle some of the industry's biggest issues.
Case in point: Kathy Cripps, the council's president, is one of the few industry leaders to address the diversity issue. But, unlike her peers, Kathy doesn't limit her definition of diversity to the color of one's skin. Like me, she recognizes the inordinate gender imbalance that threatens our industry's future.
Kathy recently wrote about this imbalance in The Firm Voice, the association's blog. Sadly, though, when she raised the 'G' word at the recent board meeting, it was given amazingly short shrift. That's probably because it's a bit of a political football (after all, PR was rightly seen as an old boys' club for many decades and the women who have risen to positions of power aren't about to undo what's been accomplished to date).
That's a shame, because gender imbalance is becoming a big, big problem in PR. I see it every time I lecture on college campuses. Almost without fail, the PR and communications classes are 85 to 90 percent female.
The end result is to simultaneously alienate an entire generation of young men while attracting a plethora of star struck Hollywood wanna-bes.
I was recently interviewed about the gender gap and asked how I'd solve it. “Easy,” I said. “Raise millions of dollars and begin an awareness campaign aimed at young men in high school.” My tongue-in-cheek response was half serious. We'll never raise the monies necessary to change kids' perception of our field, but the battle needs to be fought in high schools. By the time they've reached a college campus, young women have already decided the lifestyles portrayed on ‘The Hills,' Kell on Earth' and 'Sex in the City' are way cool. At the same time, most 'guys' have washed their hands of what they see as a 'girls-only' profession.
We haven't experienced the full repercussions yet, but we will. Any industry that doesn't reflect the rapidly-changing demographics of 21st century America will soon find itself behind the proverbial eight ball.
PR is doing all the right things in terms of recruiting at historically black colleges & universities, as well as reaching out to Asian and Latino communities. But, we've done absolutely NOTHING to connect with young men.
The time will come in the not-too-distant future when marketers seeking to reach a young male audience will look across the conference room table as team after team of female-only PR agency team pitch their business. They'll shake their heads and say, “Sorry, ladies, but we need to engage with firms who 'live' our target audience's lives. Advertising and digital firms are doing a much better job of gender balance, so we'll just partner with them. Thanks for the time and effort, though. And, good luck with tonight's red carpet movie premier. Let us know if Johnny Depp shows up.”