PR girls gone wild

I recently attended a board meeting of the Council of PR Firms (www.prfirms.org).  Pict_20090305PHT50992

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.”

8 thoughts on “PR girls gone wild

  1. Thanks Sue. The very same study says 85 percent of the PR workforce is female. That’s a problem. As for the pay gap, the survey also explains that. Of the scant 15 percent or so men left in the overall PR population, most occupy senior positions. So, there’s your pay gap cause. As for Peppercom, our senior management is comprised primarily of females. And, it’s not because of their gender, it’s because of their abilities. You do need to wake up to the inherent problem of too many women and not enough men. No industry can possibly hope to market to a rapidly-changing, ever morphing population base when 85 percent of its employees represent one gender and race.

  2. Oh one final thought – the article also says “Considering the lopsided number of women in PR, the industry is one of the starkest reminders of the inequality in pay.” I’d say that’s a sad commentary if you think about other industries like finance, banking etc – other industries that have many many more men in these fields.

  3. To follow up – a recent study shows that men in PR make up to 30k more than women in PR. Why don’t we start with closing THAT gap before worrying about boys in school now. We are years – if not decades – before any threat of men being overcome in the PR industry.
    The study says: Despite women’s overwhelming presence in the industry, 80 percent of upper management in PR is male, according to Ragan.com.
    In late 2007, PRSA performed its most recent study on the issue. The study found that men reported average annual salaries of $93,494, while on average women reported salaries of $66,467.
    http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/7411.aspx
    Just curious – how is Peppercom faring as far as its leadership and promotion of women? Fair pay? Just curious…..I’d be excited if your company has 50% women in leadership roles…

  4. I would be careful to call all women choosing to study public relations “star struck Hollywood wanna-bes.” I would definitely agree that more young people in general are caught up in the lives of celebrities these days but saying that all women want to go into public relations to live a life similar to “The Hills” is a bit unfair. I am a woman studying public relations at UNC-Chapel and most of my friends want to work in healthcare and social marketing. I would even make the argument that all men wanting to work in sports marketing have little to no more credibility than a woman interested in the entertainment industry.

  5. I seriously hope you are joking here. Is this some kind of satire or are you serious? In the extremely myopic case that this is something you are legitimately concerned about, let’s look at the numbers of women in PR – their pay and their titles. To this day, women still comprise a large part of the lower end roles, with the more senior (high paying) ones still dominated by men. With all the gender inequity that women still face today, THIS is what you are worried about? I am sure that all Gen Y’ers to a degree are influenced by the garbage on TV these days including the programs you cite above – and that is unfortunate. But rest assured, most of those ‘fluffy’ jobs are held by trust fund offspring who don’t really need to work -because those ‘fluffy’ jobs typically pay very very little. There are, believe it or not, many women in the world who are serious about their careers in communications (and actually need to work to pay their bills because their parents aren’t paying for it). Too often those women run up against a wall of discrimination that still exists in PR today. The discrimination women in PR face today is still real and alive – especially as women advance in their careers after the first 7 years or so. It gets worse when they get married and have kids. I have a deal for you. Maybe cultivating the women currently in PR who are actually good at their jobs – promoting them and investing in them as tomorrow’s leaders. Maybe that would provide a good example for women who are currently in college and hoping for an ‘easy’ job in PR. That could help weed out the girls merely looking for the fluffy jobs portrayed on MTV. As a final note, did you ever stop to think that maybe women are being pushed into PR in universities instead of getting put into education tracks that lead to higher pay (like finance, math, science related jobs)? At NYU, PR is the major you take ‘when you don’t know what else to do with your life.’ It might come as no shock that PR (along with HR) are two of the lowest paid, least credible careers in the professional world. Also let’s not forget that just a few years ago, a certain Harvard Administrator Larry Summers boldly announced that women inherently lack the genetic make up to excel in math/science. Why don’t we focus first on the inequities that women in today’s workforce suffer before ensuring that today’s middle age men have enough young guys around the office to be able to make their offensive jokes and still get away with them.

  6. Steve, I couldn’t agree more.
    Your observation actually became evident to me about 25 years ago. I was on a PCNY panel in which I stated that, according to our database records, the gender makeup in the PR industry was approximately 65-70% female, the balance male. There was an immediate reaction from the audience of about 100 people. A female reporter stood up citing industry association figures of the exact opposite. She claimed to be employed by a well-known PR newsletter (who later denied that fact to me). I responded that our figures come from real interactions with real PR people and therefore I was standing behind my numbers.
    After some investigation on my part, I later discovered that the figures she was quoting came from a well-known PR association. After some more behind-the-scenes investigation, I was secretly told that the figures were taken randomly from the association member directory – which at the time contained more males than today.
    It’s our job to follow the PR industry and its people closely. It’s more evident than ever that the PR industry is clearly skewed more toward one gender than another.
    Survival and relevance as an industry and a seat at the table, requires that more needs to be done to create a gender balance in PR – just like the real world.

  7. Thanks Julie. For me, the saddest part of this equation is our industry’s total lack of response. It’s either ignored or dismissed as being of far less importance than racial diversity. It isn’t. I think gender diversity is just as important and if our industry trade associations don’t wake up soon, I do believe better balanced competitive fields will be given the plum assignments because, frankly, PR will no longer bear any resemblance to the population with which it purports to communicate.

  8. As a PR professional in the entertainment industry, I am also offended by the way women in my field are constantly portrayed solely as dim-witted party planners wielding clipboards at red carpet events.
    We oversee corporate branding, strategic partnerships, and media relations with the same care as any senior-level PR executives in another field would. But you’d never know it from the characters featured on the shows you mentioned.