After reading a Daily Telegraph article about ‘The powerful Sydney PR princesses’, The IMPACT Agency’s General Manager, Frances Dwyer, realised her industry might still have something of a stereotype attached to it.
Walking out of Mumbrella360 last month, I was holding my head high. After years of attending the conference, there was a strong sense that the role of PR in the marketing communications mix was strong, strategic and growing.
No longer a tactical afterthought linked purely to media relations, PR was embedded in discussions about award-winning campaigns that achieved real business results for brands.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and my buoyant optimism was promptly crushed by a Sunday Telegraph article entitled, “The powerful Sydney PR princesses reveal how tough the industry can be”.
Wow, was this article riddled with #fakenews.
Let’s break down the top three ‘insights’ revealed in this patriarchy-fuelling, narcissistic article and contrast it with the #IRL alternatives of working in the communications industry:
1. Stereotype: PR is a singular bloodline of blonde PR princesses fighting over the ‘crown’ of PR Queen.
Reality: There is no monarchy and no single ‘ruler’ of PR.
Ok, so a few of us are blonde and we are predominantly women. But our industry is also a melting pot of intelligent, diverse and strategic minds.
Princesses we are not
Overwhelmingly, we exist in an ecosystem of democratic collaboration to lead creative communications programs. Different PR agencies and professionals offer different skills and expertise.
We build relationships, create brand awareness, shift perceptions and nudge desired behaviours.
The great work is steeped in strategy and insight, not in-fighting and one-upmanship.
2. Stereotype: A PR princess’s #OOTD and choice of office décor are the most accurate indicators of her, and her agency’s, professional values and abilities.
Reality: The presence or absence of a green velvet lounge in the reception area is statistically insignificant in the performance of PR agencies.
Don’t get me wrong, first impressions count. Identifying brand purpose and values; then establishing a brand identity and core strategic narrative to bring it to life through visual, written and physical communication is incredibly important for both agencies and client organisations.
However, the emphasis this article placed on the role of heels, mini-skirts, branded shirts, and last-minute model step-ins in a PR professional’s ability to ‘get the job done’ is frankly, bollocks.
A strong business strategy, underpinned by efficient operations, a productive team and high-quality work is far more significant in achieving strong client results alongside agency profitability and longevity in the industry.
3. Stereotype: Publicity is the name of the game and a PR princess’s insta following and ability to self-promote are directly linked to her ability to promote her clients.
Reality: Publicity is just a small, tactical piece of the PR puzzle and outcomes that drive real business and brand results aren’t borne out of noise for noise’s sake.
Securing social media shares and column centimetres (that’s the size of a media article for younger players) is only a small part of what PR professionals do. PR is a strategic function that connects brands and organisations with the people who matter most.
The explosion and contraction of media over the last decade has dramatically shifted focus away from the shrinking pool of journalists and publications.
We have expanded into social and digital, side-stepped to the growing arena of bloggers and influencers, created multi-channel stakeholder and direct communications programs, managed issues and crises in a 24-hour user-generated news cycle, and affirmed our position as storytellers and content marketers.
I think the worst aspect of the article was its simplistic and sexist representation of what is a professional, skilled industry.
In between the cringeworthy soundbites and filtered social media images, were some really accurate and genuine messages about our industry, from entrepreneurial women running independent agencies.
It’s bloody sad that our ability to dispel myths, repair reputations, shift perceptions and reposition brands for our clients does not seem to extend to our own industry.
This is why I have honestly thought about dumping ‘PR’; just throw out the term altogether.
But then I realised, we don’t need to ditch the term ‘PR’, we just need to ditch the crowns (and the stereotypes) and focus on continuing to do great work, steeped in strategy and insight, to connect with the right people, in the right moment, with the right message.