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run-of-the-mill work friendship
July 26, 2014 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Pink Collar
Modern public relations has, in its own parlance, an image problem. As an investigation copublished by the Columbia Journalism Review and ProPublica put it, the industry was literally birthed from a train wreck.... In stark contrast to newsrooms, in which women have never exceeded 38 percent, public relations operates as a solidly pink-collar sector of the creative industries and comprises a labor force that is currently over 85 percent female. The palpable distaste for PR practitioners that continues to swell — spearheaded by the very same members of the media with whom publicists theoretically enjoy a symbiotic relationship — requires, then, a deeper look at how gendered assumptions about work continue to shape our contemporary notions of creative labor under capitalism.
posted by the man of twists and turns (24 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 


Huh, I never thought about the gendered nature of PR, but that's a great point. Thank you.
posted by divabat at 5:33 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


Sorry, a core premise of this article is fundamentally wrong: "this elision of work and friendship is necessary for effective PR." I (male) used to work in PR, and among the most fervent critics of the overwhelmingly crappy PR she is subjected to is a (female) journalist friend of mine who writes for a national newspaper. She is eager for information about the issues and organizations (for-profit, governmental, and not-for-profit) on her beat. In her experience, most PR "professionals" don't do their homework and can't use English correctly, let alone effectively.
posted by twsf at 5:44 PM on July 26 [2 favorites]


This article made me curious about exactly how gender may play a role in the dynamics of the PR profession, but it seemed like the author just hinted at a thesis without really articulating an opinion.
posted by univac at 5:46 PM on July 26 [4 favorites]


It's a Scandal.
posted by Chitownfats at 6:03 PM on July 26 [2 favorites]


That's interesting. I was briefly a publicist for a book publisher. When I tell my friends that, they laugh and laugh. I have social anxiety and am slightly phobic of talking on the phone to strangers: you literally could not find a neurotypical person who was more temperamentally unsuited to being a publicist than me. I am good at writing press releases, which is how I got promoted into the job, but I literally couldn't do the social stuff. I would go to industry parties and be so anxious that I ended up getting drunk and having to leave. But I actually think that good publicists don't really do what the author thinks they do. Early on in my brief PR career, I told a journalist I knew that I hated to idea of having to pretend to like books that I knew were crap. He said I was thinking about it the wrong way and that my job was to figure out which journalists would want to cover the book and to explain to them the angle that would be appealing to them. I didn't have to pretend that every book was a work of genius. I just had to figure out to whom I could honestly say "your readers will be interested in this book because...." And for me, as a former bookstore employee who enjoyed the challenge of matching customers with books even if they had really different taste than me, that didn't feel gross. It felt like an interesting intellectual challenge. If I could just have overseen strategy without actually talking to anyone, I might even have been good at that job.

But yeah, it's deeply gendered, and a lot of the crap about "PR girls" does feel a little misogynistic to me. At the non-fiction publisher where I worked, literally everyone in editorial was a man, and literally everyone in marketing and publicity was a woman. Editorial dudes were serious and smart, and PR girls were vapid and stupid. Amazing coincidence!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:32 PM on July 26 [15 favorites]


PR is one of the shittiest of shit jobs. Just barely above real estate (lossa women there, too) and only a notch above auto sales.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:48 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


Why can't we all just tell the truth?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:51 PM on July 26 [2 favorites]


Why can't we all just tell the truth?

Because it is ugly.
posted by srboisvert at 7:02 PM on July 26 [4 favorites]


PR is a very broad umbrella. I know a couple of folks who work in PR for indie music, and that sector doesn't seem to be particularly female dominated at all. Then again, there are law firms out there that work as de facto PR organizations for wealthy politically connected clients, like Richard Berman. The critiques of PR are usually meant for people operating on a different political level than lower-level copy writers and press liaisons. I think most people intuitively grasp what specific forms of PR are being criticized and they aren't the more reasonable forms.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:09 PM on July 26


I've always thought that I wanted to help people but I enjoy writing and I like working with the media so communications felt like a natural fit. Recently I spoke with someone in the field and we talked about how we strive to serve as resources for reporters. I can't always connect them with an expert source at my organization but when I can't, I try to identify someone at a related organization who can help them. And I try to help my nonprofit clients by identifying reporters who would be interested in covering their stories. It struck me that, in my way, I am helping people and making the world a slightly better place.

I may be super naive but I fail to see how that is "one of the shittiest of shit jobs" or that I'm somehow not telling the truth (??). I have bad days and days where I think I'd prefer to be doing something else but the good days outweigh the bad and until that changes, I am happy with my choice
posted by kat518 at 7:09 PM on July 26 [4 favorites]


Why can't we all just tell the truth?

Because it is not profitable.

Still, this is somewhat surprising, since when I've seen the public face of PR, more often than not doing Damage Control, it is usually a SpokesMAN.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:11 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


Also, the article doesn't ever get around to saying what the prevalence of female PR professionals is supposed to mean for the main point of the article. It's a little confusing what the point is supposed to be, actually. What does the fact that the population of journalists is rapidly shrinking while the number of PR people is growing at an even more rapid clip have to do with the gender related questions alluded to? I just don't understand what I'm supposed to be getting here. That PR offers good jobs for women and that's why the man is so skeptical of it? But it's not the man that's skeptical of it--it's the antiestablishment set. Just really confused about what my take away is meant to be here...
posted by saulgoodman at 7:35 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


I think that she's saying that PR shares similarities with the way the labor market is moving in general, and instead of being contemptuous, in kind of gendered ways, towards the people who do it, other people should feel solidarity with them, because we are increasingly all PR workers now. To her, PR is characterized by emotional labor and by a blurring of the lines between life and work that makes it seem natural that people are working all the time, and that stuff increasingly characterizes most jobs.

I don't know that I buy it, but I think that's what she's saying.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:42 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


Why can't we all just tell the truth?

You can't handle the truth.
posted by Pudhoho at 10:27 PM on July 26


> when I've seen the public face of PR, more often than not doing Damage Control, it is usually a SpokesMAN.

When I was in radio journalism, we tried not to use the term - partly because we operated on a very local level and it felt stupid to talk about "a spokesman for" a small local business, for instance, and we preferred to have audio cuts rather than just dry-read statements from "spokesmen." But when we did use it, it was a generic term, and more often than not the "spokesman" was a woman.
posted by winterhill at 3:20 AM on July 27


I had no inkling that PR was a "female occupation", but I was contemptuous of it anyway.
posted by Hizonner at 5:01 AM on July 27


> I had no inkling that PR was a "female occupation", but I was contemptuous of it anyway.

That's how it works. Most sexism is insidious.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 5:18 AM on July 27 [5 favorites]


Ah, I see. We hate the sneaky tricks used by Berman, Scaife and the Koch brothers because we're all crypto-sexists. That makes perfect sense, because we all totally thought of PR as women's work. Or something. I'm still confused, only now I'm confused why anyone would think people are gullible enough to buy this lame attempt to use identity politics to blunt people's reaction to a real growing issue: that issue being the death of real journalism with even a semblance of integrity in favor of 24/7 marketing dressed up as journalism.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:47 AM on July 27 [4 favorites]


> I think that she's saying that PR shares similarities with the way the labor market is moving in general, and instead of being contemptuous, in kind of gendered ways, towards the people who do it, other people should feel solidarity with them, because we are increasingly all PR workers now. To her, PR is characterized by emotional labor and by a blurring of the lines between life and work that makes it seem natural that people are working all the time, and that stuff increasingly characterizes most jobs.

I don't know that I buy it, but I think that's what she's saying.


Yes, that's what she's saying, in Jacobin-speak ("If all workers are increasingly subject to these requirements, the dismissal of the publicist as a corporate shill or a purveyor of a kind of false consciousness that interferes with the otherwise unsullied work of the journalist not only reifies a gendered hierarchy of labor, but additionally eclipses the primacy of emotional labor for all workers under neoliberalism"), and I don't buy it. I mean, of course there's something to it—yes, PR people do "emotional labor," and that provides something in common with other workers—but the whole thrust of her argument is to ignore what those who criticize PR are objecting to and simply claim that PR people work hard and they're largely women and therefore people who object are sexist and furthermore we should all identify with PR people because we're all suffering under the bootheel of neoliberalism. Which is bullshit.

I highly recommend the second link ("investigation copublished by the Columbia Journalism Review and ProPublica"), which is solid reporting rather than ideological thumbsucking, and very informative. (Long, though.)
posted by languagehat at 8:04 AM on July 27 [7 favorites]


I should add (because there are PR people in this very thread) that I am not condemning PR out of hand or saying that it's practiced by bad people; it's a necessary function that (as the CJR/ProPublica piece explains) can become a huge problem when it is developed into an arm of corporate/political power that overwhelms the increasingly fragile ecosystem of reporting (which, for all the fallibility of actual reporters and news organizations, is at least theoretically dedicated to finding and promulgating facts, often inconvenient for corporate/political power).
posted by languagehat at 8:16 AM on July 27 [1 favorite]


All the pr in the world wouldn't matter if journalists actually did their fucking jobs. The basic fact is that if you're getting your news from an institution that derives their income from advertising, you've lost before pr even gets involved. Newspapers exist to sell you shit you don't want or need.

At least with pr, you usually know what their agenda is. I have no fucking clue who the New York Times reporters work for, but it's not me.
posted by empath at 1:36 PM on July 27 [1 favorite]


No, you don't, because a lot of it is presented as independent, or worse, as if it were actual news bound by some measure of journalistic ethics.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:37 PM on July 27


But it's presented as such by *reporters*.
posted by empath at 7:21 PM on July 27


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