The Fallacy of “PR Girls”

Kristen Ingraham | The Fallacy of “PR Girls” | Buffalo.Agency
I was asked by a group of young women in my office to write a Buffalo.Agency blog in honor of National Business Women’s Week.  These smart, savvy and sassy ladies did not make it easy on me – they said, “You can write about anything.”

Anything.  Well, those kind of possibilities can send my mind in a million directions.  And they did.

I’ll confess, I went straight to my “lady boss” friends for advice – to ask what they would write about.  One brilliant friend, and former colleague, suggested, “Why not write about all the business women who have shaped who you are today?” She’s so clever.

My thoughts traveled back in time.  Remembering all the special ladies who have shaped my learning, influenced my career, and guided my life compass.  There are so many – too many – to individually highlight in just one blog.  But in thinking of these women, a theme arose.  The world does not understand their work and impact on our industry.

I remember vividly the first time I returned to Boston University after graduation.  I was in shock and awe that I had been asked to guest lecture in the very classrooms of the College of Communication (COM) where I had recently been a student.

My boss at the time – a female PR industry leader – had taken an additional role as Professor within the COM Master’s Program in Public Relations.  She asked me to come and speak to her classes about the realities of PR agency life.  It was surreal, being positioned as an up-and-coming expert in our field.

Now, let me just say that my career came of age in an era of PR “glamour.”  At that moment, MTV’s ”PoweR Girls” was the latest reality show about female publicists.  Kim Cattrall was immortalizing the mystique of a New York PR powerhouse, playing Samantha Jones in “Sex in the City.”  Bottom line, this was the height of the “PR Girls” empire, and these students were expecting me to dazzle them with tales of parties, paparazzi and publicity.

If this is the life you’re hoping for,
it’s best to find a different career now.

So, I walked into the classroom. I set up my PowerPoint on the projector.  Took a deep breath to calm my nerves. I cleared my throat. I clicked my first slide onto the screen (a photo of these Hollywood “PR Girl” personas).  And I began my lecture with these words, “If this is the life you’re hoping for, it’s best to find a different career now.”  I spoke about the strategy, tenacity, long hours and rewards that come with a career in marketing and communications.  To say I burst many a bubble that day is an understatement.  But I wouldn’t change a thing.

I tell you this story – not to commence another doom and gloom diatribe about the rigors of our industry – but rather to highlight an archaic narrative about women in PR. Despite my best efforts that day – and every day since – I’m sad to say that misconception still exists today.

Here is the fallacy of “PR” Girls.  (FYI, it has nothing to do with being PC and calling female coworkers “ladies” or “women,” rather than “girls” or “chicks.” But while we’re on this tangent…please do stop using those terms.)  “PR Girls” are caricatures of little more than glorified prom queens.  They’re perceived as the best campaigners in a made-up popularity contest.  The stereotype says they know how to leverage their rolodex (modern term = contact list), and they’ve “made” the careers of clients and put brands on the map – all with their charm, their charisma, and (as the legend goes) with their sex appeal.  What a terrible narrative.

Here’s the truth.  I have never worked among “PR Girls.”  Because they do not exist.  The women in business who have shaped who I am today are so much more than that.  These women are leaders, not bosses.  They are trailblazers, not followers.  These women balance their endless quest for personal learning with the patience and skillset to teach others. They practice diplomacy and compromise, without fear to take action when they know change is needed.  These women are listeners, who know a smart question is just as valuable as a smart idea. They are not “PR Girls,” they are industry experts.  The women in business that I admire most are the champions of future women in business.

I still find it hard to believe that I am no longer that young woman, teaching for the first time.  I consider it a true honor to be a female leader at Buffalo.Agency, shaping the career paths of the women within this company.  So to celebrate National Business Women’s Week, please allow me to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the women who helped get me here.