Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why we should care about our bad reputation

Earlier today I was reading a post by Bill Sledzik, PR and the 'chick factor': What Kent State learned about the missing men of public relations. Sledzik and his students conducted a survey to help determine why many public relations programs and the profession are dominated by women. One quote from a non PR student was pretty telling. 

"'s harder to tell if a woman is lying, so they're probably better at the job," said the student. It's easy to roll my eyes and say that this young man is clearly misinformed. However, I wonder how much this is a representation of how most people view public relations. 

One of the problems with our profession's image is the average person has very little contact with a public relations professional. Unless they have a relative in the PR business, the first time many people encounter PR is after college. That is why characters such as Samantha Jones from Sex and the City heavily influence perceptions. People do not have a reality to compare the fictional representation against. I've personally been compared to Samantha Jones more times than I would like to count. 

I think the best thing we can do is get to high school students early. Have PRos come in to career centers and speak in classes. Even those who do not go into PR will have an accurate perception of who we are and what we do. 

Photo by Discoodoni


Matt said...

Interesting observation. It's clear that there is a vast misunderstanding of the entire field of public relations, because most of what the people see is when PR fails. The perception is summed up in the cynical phrase PR stunt," signifying that PR is nothing more than a campaign of cutting losses and saving face, rather than the everyday functions of ordinary public relations. It's quite ironic that, as you observed, the public hardly has relations with public relations practitioners.

Anonymous said...

Sorry it took so long for me to drop in Hannah. End of semester rush kept me out of the blogosphere. I can tell you first-hand that the Samantha Jones character has influenced how young people view PR. We spend the first two weeks in PR Principles dispelling myths about party planning for celebrities.

You make an excellent point about reaching kids while they're still in high school -- and my follow-up post on the "girls in PR" topic presents some ways to do this. Hope you'll check it out.

To really reach a broad high school population with PR for PR, we'll need the help of groups like PRSA and IABC. And most of the folks active in those organizations are already spread pretty thin.

I will tell you that our diversity officer in the Kent State School of Journalism does a good bit of outreach to kids from inner-city schools. And it's working. Some 20% of my Case Studies students this past year were from minority groups, considerably more than the KSU population overall. Not one of my Case Studies students was male!