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Men in PR: What’s the Big Deal?

June 16, 2009

There was a lot of justified uproar last week concerning the Flashbelt conference. While the threats of violence were not, the disgust and outrage that many felt was.  You can read more about it here, as well as an apology from the presenter that came four days later (another sigh from me.)

paa161000020So, the events that occurred really got me thinking. I work in the public relations field, where it is dominated by women. Sure, many men have emerged as leaders of this field, both in the past, present and future. Some of the best PR professionals I know are men – and many of my mentors are of the opposite sex. They are innovative, savvy and are incredible writers and researchers. <— Two key qualities every PR person should have, IMO. I think it is still looked at as a women’s field because of the perception many have: it’s all event planning, which means high heels and trotting around a party making sure everyone is happy. Now, I’m sure some of my friends would look dashing in heels, but I wonder if it’s because of stereotypes that we face these situations.

Many of my guy friends would mask that they were public relations majors by saying they were journalism.  PR was a sequence of journalism at my school, so this could be justified. Most of my girl PR people would state that they were public relations. Why is this? If one has a passion for their job, they shouldn’t be embarassed by what they do. They should also devote time to educating the ignorant and making steps to change it. A field should never be looked at as ‘man’ or ‘woman.’ It might be dominated by one or the other, but never should that be a barrier or a standard. We shouldn’t put up with it.

I’m a Hispanic and a woman. Who cares? Equal rights means that those just describe me, not hinder me in a field where I am just as qualified as the next. A man in PR? Who cares? Judge him on what he adds or takes away from the field. A woman having to deal with the good ol’ boys of technology? Good for her – she’s a lot stronger than I was. I was the butt of many jokes at comp sci competitions in HS – and that was in high school.  It’s one of the main reasons I chose journalism – public relations  over computer science.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. UnderstndnMrktg permalink
    June 16, 2009 12:58 pm

    Battle of the sexes in PR. Love it lol. I’m a guy in PR and proud of it.

    • June 16, 2009 1:01 pm

      That was my point, though – it shouldn’t be a battle of the sexes. Many of my mentors are men and I’m proud of that. There are incredible people in this field and they shouldn’t be judged on whether they are a man or woman.

  2. June 16, 2009 1:12 pm

    I totally agree with you- it shouldn’t matter what your gender is, as long as you have the skills needed to succeed in PR. I am currently interning on a digital team for a PR agency- it’s three guys & me. Because everyone is mature and professional, I have no felt even the slightest bit uncomfortable or anything- even as a intern, I feel like an equal. Ideally, thats how it should be in all workplace settings.

    The Flashbelt conference proved that things aren’t as equal as we would hope, but at least its been brought to light, and bloggers like yourself can take a stance. It’s one step closer to things actually being on a level playing field.

  3. Erica permalink
    June 16, 2009 1:17 pm

    Great post. It’s an old stereotype that will likely take some time to erase, partly because of the annual polls that show the field is dominated by women, thus, leaving that picture of the industry to leak into people’s minds.

    My husband is in finance, a male-dominated industry, but he’s had two female managers whom he says are amongst the brightest, still that doesn’t stop people from thinking about finance as a good ol’ boys club.

    Those who are actually in the PR field know that it’s not the gender, race, etc. that makes the industry, it is the talent and dedication to being a PR practitioner that never wants to stop learning.

  4. jaywalk1 permalink
    June 16, 2009 1:17 pm

    You definitely reach back right to the root with college. At my school, I could count all of the male Communication majors on one hand. For whatever reason, it did not look appealing to most guys. I have to assume that because they majored in Marketing and then jumped to the PR side for internships or full-time jobs after graduation. Only a bold few seemed to major or minor in Comm openly saying that they wanted to do PR.

  5. June 16, 2009 1:18 pm

    As a male in public relations I can honestly say I have never been ashamed about my chosen career. I would hope professionals in our field would fiercely protective of the craft, but sadly that is not always the case.

    You bring up some interesting points to ponder here in light of what seems to have been such a grotesque and infantile display at the conference.

    – @vedo

  6. adriennebailey permalink
    June 16, 2009 1:26 pm

    Great post, Lauren. This is certainly something we hear about a lot.

    I work at a small PR firm which is entirely dominated by women, besides the co-owner. We just recently hired a male intern and this will be his third full week. Let me just say, it is quite refreshing to not only have a new face in the office, but someone without hormones. Having a male here on a daily basis has brought new ideas and knowledge to the other Account Executives. As a woman in PR, I can honestly say, we need more men in PR… especially men who are not ashamed of it. Obviously, both men and women bring different talents and skills to the table but together are equally important to the overall success of the industry.

    • June 16, 2009 1:29 pm

      Great point, A. I remember working in a small agency and it being very refreshing to have a male intern come in. It’s a different viewpoint, and I remember how excited we all were.

      Thanks for reading.

  7. ryanmcshane permalink
    June 16, 2009 1:29 pm

    Unique post — thanks for sharing.

    I’ve never been one to shy away from our industry. I think because I pursued a PR career in sports, where it’s “acceptable” for a male to practice, I’ve embraced my profession more so than a guy who feels insecure of any stigmas that may be present.

    • June 16, 2009 1:30 pm

      Ryan – I’m glad you brought up the sports industry. Do you think that women face a challenge being in sports PR, more so than men? And why are men more comfortable in sports PR then say, fashion PR? (I know it’s pretty obvious, but can you dig into it a bit for me?)

  8. ChetG permalink
    June 16, 2009 1:30 pm

    LAF another fantastic post. I definitely noticed that there were a lot of women in PR when all of my professors were women, then when I was the only guy in a lot of my classes.

    However! I have always been proud to be a PR major. I enjoy it more than a lot of people I had class with did. It was really treated as a blow-off major by people. As you said it’s all parties and rainbows.

    Here’s to men and women working peacefully in our field!

  9. June 16, 2009 1:32 pm

    Good stuff.

    You and I go around and around (in a collegial and respectful way) about the roles race and gender play in perceptions.

    I think its vital that people recognize that there has been advantage built up on those roles and discrimination.

    Misogyny and boys will be boys behavior is about putting folk in their place.

    That is why people should never be afraid to speak up when offense is taken.

    It is why being called a racist has become the trendy form of victim-claiming.

    The power of gender and race privilege is in its last throes, but it is NOT going down without a fight.

  10. June 16, 2009 1:34 pm

    One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed and that you mentioned in your post is a shift from college to professional experience.

    In college, I had very few male classmates in my public relations classes, but I did have several male professors. I think there were more guys majoring in advertising (which, like public relations, was in the journalism school). And there were certainly more female members and leaders of discipline-related activities, like PRSSA and IABC.

    In my internships and [brand new!] professional experience, though, I’ve encountered very talented male and female PR practitioners. I never really noticed that the PR departments of the agencies where I worked were actually made up of more women than men, but that’s because it didn’t really matter. We all work on the same things and everyone follows the same career progression.

    I think within the industry, it’s not uncommon to know and respect pros from both genders. But the perception of people outside the industry is what might be skewed.

  11. ryanmcshane permalink
    June 16, 2009 1:47 pm

    LAF — It’s funny now that I think of it. When people ask what I do, I oftentimes say I’m in Sports PR.

    For a sector specific as sports (or fashion), a practitioner needs to possess a passion for the industry, as well as the sector. I think that’s why you may see more men in sports and not so much in fashion.

    I think the sports sector is a bit more inclusive than Fashion PR. With women holding a strong ratio in the industry, it’d be tough for any of us to get a job in fashion not having any previous knowledge of the sector. It’s a case of supply and demand. Women raised without a background in sports should have a much easier time getting a job in sports than an un-savvy male would in fashion. Agree? Disagree?

  12. June 16, 2009 1:50 pm

    R – Very happy you brought that up, and it’s something I agree with wholeheartedly. As I am a complete sports fanatic – ask anyone! – but I also love fashion.

    For a specific sector, you really do have to have knowledge of it. I continue to awe and amaze most men with my sports knowledge, and maybe that is why it’s still men dominated. They know their stuff – and that is transcended into how they work.

  13. June 16, 2009 9:01 am

    Great convo this morning. I’ll be sure to tune in next time.

  14. June 16, 2009 9:21 am

    Interesting point LAF- For me, gender is really such a non-issue when I look at who is a talented PR pro that I don’t even think of it. I always harp on the stereotype of being in PR because “I’m a people person” which is absolutely NOT why you should be in PR. If done well, communications and PR is about understanding an audience and an industry to be able to provide context to information that will benefit everyone involved– getting appropriate information for an organization out, connecting with the right audience/customer, and engaging with media that fits.

    I think men and women certainly provide different viewpoints and experiences that color how you may look at things, but that’s good. The fundamental priority is knowing your stuff and working hard to know how all the pieces come together.

    And, I don’t think heels would work well for me (or anyone else unfortunate enough to see it.)

    Good thoughts as always and thanks for sharing with us all.

  15. June 16, 2009 9:37 am

    Personally? I love being in PR. I find it fast paced, suited to my skills and constantly evolving. I’m only 24 and already used to being the only dude at the table during lunch. Do I care? Not really.

    For me it’s not who you work with but how you work with them effectively. If you make a great team and can create awesome stuff who cares what gender you are? Stigmas are dumb. One thing I have noticed though is that far fewer women blog about PR versus men who blog about PR. Weird, huh?

  16. June 16, 2009 9:42 am

    First, can you really be a sports fan and cheer for the Pack?

    Ok, now that I have my required jab out of the way! Now that I think of it, through out my educational career, the majority of PR majors at my school were female. In my class, I believe there were 4-5 males who I graduated with that got a degree in PR. Hadn’t thought about it until now. Wow!

    I think a lot of it goes back to the sterotype of PR being party planners and the “f” word. No, not the 4-letter word. Traditionally, the wedding planners and party planners were female – that is obviously changing as PR evolves into it’s true profession. At the same time, look at the traditional journalists – heavily dominated by males.

    I think PR in general is not a well-known trade. It often plays second fiddle to advertising & marketing, which is fine. However, as PR has continued to showcase it’s importance, the industry has become more public. Bad or good, that’s another discussion.

    As our society continues to change and evolve, so will our profession. No longer will males study economics or accounting – traditional “male” industries. Our industry has a bright future and I’m excited to be a part of it.

  17. June 16, 2009 10:15 am

    It’s so true though. One of the guys I graduated from University with — one of maybe 50 in a PR program of 800+ I would imagine — used to refer to himself and the other guys as the ‘token men of PR.’

    He used to say things to the girls like — thanks for letting me in ‘your group’ and ‘accepting me.’ He was totally straight too, btw.

    Personally, I love PR. I’m proud I’m a part of it, and I think that sometimes the lines between the sexes get blurred and rather nasty.

    But at the end of the day, everyone’s free to make their own decisions, and if they decisions or the words that come out of their mouths are offensive — it’s up to me, to set that distance.

    That’s my choice.

  18. June 16, 2009 11:54 pm

    A while back, a former coworker of mine suggested I write a book about what it’s like to work in a female-dominated industry. Interestingly enough, I never look at the industry that way. Just as you say many of your mentors are men, many of mine are women. And they’re all insanely bright, talented and motivated women. I gotta agree with Dave here when he says it’s a non-issue. Always been that way for me. That said, don’t bet against me writing that book. After all, I already have the title: “Behind the Press Release: Arik Hanson–Working in a Woman’s World.” 😉

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