PR stereotypes: Fact or fiction?

Through the lens of his experience, a public relations veteran attempts to dispel the misperceptions.


Like many industries, PRs are a highly stereotyped bunch. Remember Lizzie Grubman or MTV’s PoweR Girls? What about Samantha Jones on “Sex in the City”? Many continue to think of PR folks as either glorified party planners or publicists for celebs.

What’s more, ask 10 people what PR people do, and you’re likely to get 10 very different answers. It’s just a tough industry to define. Heck, we’ve been trying to accurately define it ourselves for as long as I can remember.

Some notions of PR pros are simply stereotypes, though. Let’s look at a few:

All PR pros are Democrats.

Fiction. Our industry leans to the left, but there are lots of centrists and Republicans in our midst.

All PR pros are outgoing people.

Fiction. Some of the better PR people out there are self-described introverts. (Jen Kane and Gini Dietrich come to mind.)

All PR pros are good writers.

Fiction. A sad fiction. Our industry is rife with people who couldn’t write their way out of a shoebox. I don’t think I’m stating anything outrageous here. As I blogged previously, the future isn’t as bright as we’d like it to be.

All PRs have degrees in communications/PR.

Fiction. On the agency side, specifically, people come from different backgrounds. I’ve worked with people who have degrees in political science, biology, English, and mathematics.

PR pros are hyper-organized.

Fact. People don’t survive in this industry unless they’re organized.

PR people have a TV in their office, and it’s always on.

Fact—but with an update. This is a stereotype from 1994. Today’s PR people not only have TVs in their offices, but they also have several computer windows going at any given time with Tweetdeck open and other social feeds from which they’re gathering all sorts of trend and client data.

All PR people are workaholics.

Fiction. Work smarter, not harder, is the mantra of the PR pro of 2013.

All PR people dress “on trend.”

Fiction. Though people on the agency side are typically on trend, those on the corporate and nonprofit sides (not all, but some) have been known to be more “conservative.” I won’t even tell you what I wear during the day while working in my home office or from my new digs at CoCo.

All PR people drink massive amounts of coffee.

A fact, generally. The PR industry runs on Dunkin’ Donuts or Caribou Coffee here in Minneapolis.

PR agency people are more creative than corporate types.

Fiction. I know some very creative people on both sides of the PR fence. Creativity is not the sole province of agency folks.

All PR people are women.

Fiction, but virtually a fact. The ratio is easily 4-to-1 in our industry.

Which stereotypes did I miss, and are they fact or fiction?

Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications. A version of this article originally ran on his blog, Communications Conversations.

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Topics: PR

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