PR Girls: Media Portrayal and The Challenge of Self-Promotion

Cori Kendrick

In last week’s post, I spent some time exploring the misconceptions associated with female PR professionals. Specifically, the post focused on the point that Anne Friedman, New York Magazine, made in her recent article that women in PR are essentially viewed as a “sorority girl” and have yet to be taken seriously in the business world.

In the article, Friedman places her blame squarely on the television and movie industry, noting that most well-known publicists in pop culture perpetuate the stereotype. She points to the likes of Samantha Jones of “Sex and the City,” and Debi Mazar of “Entourage,” both of which are portrayed as overly-sexualized, “vapid” caricatures of themselves. Even Olivia Pope of "Scandal” who is relatively hard-hitting, is engaged in what could be considered the dumbest love affair on television and is guided more often by emotion than logic. Rack your brain for a moment, and you’ll have to agree that PR women are rarely depicted as intelligent, savvy or business-minded – despite the fact that these skills are required in the real world in order to secure, let alone maintain, a career in the field.

It’s difficult to describe how frustrated I am when I introduce myself as a PR Professional and the response I receive is “Oh! That sounds like fun.”

Of course, we cannot place all of the blame on the media, but it’s worth considering how incredibly difficult it is to change a stereotype when the definition of success in a profession is invisibility. “Good PR” is viewed as flying under the radar while making someone or something else look good. The stage crew might be listed in the credits – but it’s the star actor ( in our case the CEO) who receives the standing ovation. But before we can change the view of a profession from the outside, we as PR women must claim our ground in the C-Suite and elevate ourselves within the industry.

Personally, sharing my successes is something that I’ve found challenging throughout my career—and, according to Kay and Shipman’s Confidence Gap article, I am not alone. Research shows that women are consistently downplaying their success and suffering in the workplace because of it.

Leveraging a number of studies, Kay and Shipman drove home the fact that confidence and self-promotion is essential to success in the workplace and men have proved time and time again to have more of it, despite the fact that it’s not necessarily consistent with merit. Kay and Shipman explain that women’s modesty can be tied back to a multitude of factors, including childhood learnings, genetics and societal norms. But it’s clear that because of a lack of confidence women aren’t pursuing opportunities that their male counterparts are fearlessly seizing.

So, how do the women of PR portray ourselves as confident, competent and successful without furthering an image as pushy, annoying and self-promotional? And how do we shatter the glass ceiling of an industry that we should rule based on numbers alone? In the third part of my post, I’ll explore how women in PR can defy stereotypes and do their part to turn an industry on its head.


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