TV’s Portrayal of PR Women is Detrimental to the Profession’s Future

When entertainment skews reality and falsifies the rational perceptions of the real world, Houston, we have a problem.

That is what television’s portrayal of women in public relations is to today’s up-and-coming young women.

I would know I’m one of them.

From PoweR Girls to SPINdustry, The Hills to Kell on Earth there is a irrational storm brewing that the public relations world has been ignoring for far too long: the entertainment industry tossing the profession a bone, by including it in their novelties but at the cost of reinforcing gender stereotypes, ridiculous expectations and creating a desire within the young women of Generation-Y that cannot be met.

In watching these shows without any prior knowledge of what it means to be a true public relations practitioner, it can easily be said that all public relations people are glorified event planners, sharks (or man eaters – take your pick,) probably blond, young, certainly white and mostly work in industries like fashion and entertainment. Period.

However, in reality, that’s not the case.

In fact, that is only a very small percentage of the industry, yet, it accounts for a large percent of its representation. That and fictional characters like Samantha Jones from Sex & the City and Shauna Roberts from Entourage reinforce the problem tenfold.

Happy Pills via WeHeartIt

In a recent article by Dionne C. Clemons on the Public Relations Society of America’s Diversity column she pointed out that many of her students walk into her Introduction to Public Relations university course under the presumption that they want to be the next Lizzie Grubman.

I’m sorry, what?!

These girls, who are more or less my age, want to grow up to be silicone lip-injecting-crack-w*ores living on daddy’s money?

Okay, that was harsh. I take it back…mostly.

The day someone comes to me and says they want to be the next Jonathan Cheban, is the day I officially write a letter to the Universal Accreditation Board (who issues the APR) as well as the Public Relations Society of America and title it, WTF Are You Doing? Protect the Brand, Damn It!

Okay, that too, was harsh.

But I don’t take it back because these minority groups of the industry leading the way, pummeling through all that is vast, wide and far-reaching will inevitably downgrade the importance of my degree and YOURS.

It’ll be a frigid day in hell freezing over, before I stop advocating for our industry to take responsibility for itself and its image.

After all, that is what other people pay us to do.

So one must forgive me because I have a hard time understanding why what comes so naturally and easily for our industry to do for others, we cannot do for ourselves. And for those of us that do — we are in segmented bubbles, far and few in between.

via WeHeartIt

Not taking hold of the superficial will undermine the transparency, accountability and responsibility we try to impart into our campaigns for our clients.

But most of all, it will undermine us, the professionals themselves.

Us – who toil away to enable our clients to try to walk on water, we who believe in relationships and growth, we, the people, who…

Well, YOU get it, do you not?

As Gini Dietrich puts it out there, spin sucks. And the stereotypical portrayal of public relations women on television and in movies is spinning all of us into these images that hardly encompass what we do.

It’s truly sad when your family thinks you are a party planner, or that you really are Emily Charlton from The Devil Wears Prada because they cannot grasp what it is you really do (no matter how many times you explain it) thanks to television.

At some point you just start calling it advertising because almost everyone knows what that is.

Nothing is wrong with being an entertainment publicist, nothing is wrong with working in investor relations and nothing is wrong with being another side to the same prism of public relations, a field we have a passion for.

But, in order to grow as an industry, we have to MANAGE our relationships with those who are not in public relations.

Awareness must be raised outside the classroom before the students set foot inside the door.

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Sasha Muradali runs the Little Pink Book. She holds a B.S. in Public Relations from the University of Florida with a minor in Dance (’07) and an M.A. in International Administration from the University of Miami (’08). She loves Twitter and all things social media, so you should find her @SashaHalima or get a copy of the Little Pink Book delivered to your Kindle.

Copyright © 2009-2010 Sasha H. Muradali. All Rights Reserved.

Comments

  1. While I agree that Hollywood has done nothing to advance the perception of female public relations practitioners in the real world, I have to disagree that it is on the Public Relations Society of America or the UAB or anyone else to “fix” that issue. Expecting others to rectify a problem doesn't help any more than whining about it on a blog.

    I firmly believe that as smart, savvy female practitioners, we are the ones who should “defend the brand” by continuing to provide innovative, strategic counsel and thoughful, considered leadership to our clients (internal and external) every single day. Only in that way will we ensure that “feminine” is in no way confused with “incompetent” and counter the ridiculous stereotypes put forth by the entertainment industry.

  2. ginidietrich says:

    And is is why Spin Sucks was born! While I agree with Sydney that we all have to do our part in changing the perception, I agree with you that the UAB should be creating more incentive (better pay, better clients, better titles) if we are APR certified and show the world the relevance of the accreditation. I am doing my part in changing the perception, one post at a time, but I don't have my APR because there is nothing in it for me to have it. Until our industry begins to help us change the perception, we may never be taken seriously.

  3. As usual, Sasha, you don't pull any punches!

    I remember when I first started out in PR – it was all about events…and unfortunatley, it's still a perception widely held 'out there'.

    While I don't disagree with many of your obersvations, I suppose our only saving grace are the savvy clients who hire PR pros for their strategic brains; or if you're in-house PR, the internal stakeholders who look to you for your wise counsel.

    So, while my mother may not truly understand what I do…I can live with that!

  4. Hi Sasha – first know that I am a huge fan, but as I read this post I had to shake my head at the irony.

    Your blog is so clever and beautiful, but its all about being pink, a cute little day planner, a heart in a cup of coffee… with all due respect, you're precipitating the same thing this post lashes against. If you don't want PR pros to be labeled she-she party planners, help us do that by taking it into account in how you visually portray yourself as a PR pro to the market.

    Your beautiful picture is a centerpiece on your page (and I totally did vote for you!), but the problem is with the fact that you're kneeling on a couch in a dress with your drink.

    Showing yourself kneeling on a couch is much more like Samantha Jones than the publicists you want us to be respected as…

    Just my 2 cents as a PR pro that agrees with every single word of your post. I just hope you'll really join us in working to eliminate that stigma because as the power of your blog continues to increase, hearts, pink and couch poses only help to keep this negative stereotype going.

  5. BreeUnscripted says:

    Yes, and yes! This post, is so on point. I, for one, am sick of having the “PR girl” stereotype, put on me.

  6. I'm on the same page with Sydney…mostly.

    Just as homosexuals get portrayed in inaccurate lights often by television, film, and the media…it's no surprise women in PR get portrayed in the manner they do through the same channels. Let's be honest, when has media ever truly, accurately portrayed any type of person in any type of profession (be it man or woman), save for some rare occasions?

    However, I like that Sasha is calling out media outlets for portraying women in PR in the manner that they do. Television, film, and all types of media are so superimposed in society's psyche that it's important to try and have portrayel of all groups as accurately as possible.

    Samantha on Sex & the City can be as sexy and amorous as she likes, but let's also make sure SATC shows she's also a very hard working woman. Then again…SATC probably shouldn't be counted on for accurate portrayels of careers. Let's not forget how long Carrie got to live on the Upper East Side, along with buying top line clothes and shoes on the budget of a column writer.

  7. I'm on the same page with Sydney…partly.

    Just as homosexuals get portrayed in inaccurate lights often by television, film, and the media, it's no surprise women in PR get portrayed in the manner they do through the same channels. Let's be honest, when has the media ever truly, accurately portrayed any type of person in any type of profession (be it man or woman), save for some rare occasions?

    However, I like that Sasha is calling out media outlets for portraying women in PR in the manner that they do. Television, film, and all types of media are so superimposed in society's psyche that it's important to try and have portrayal of all groups be as accurate as possible.

    Samantha on Sex & the City can be as sexy and amorous as she likes, but let's also make sure SATC shows she's also a very hard working woman. Then again…SATC probably shouldn't be counted on for accurate portrayels of careers. Let's not forget how long Carrie got to live on the Upper East Side, along with buying top line clothes and shoes on the budget of a column writer.