What do women in PR really need?
A recent guest post on PR Daily by Jazz Chappell titled “12 things PR women can’t live without” attempted to answer this question—and it fueled the ire of many readers.
“Sexist!” “Patronizing!” “Stereotyping!”
My response here is not meant to belittle Ms Chappell’s post. She is a student at Leeds Metropolitan University (as my own father hails from Yorkshire, I do have a soft spot for the region), and the post first appeared on Your Coffee Break, a fashion and lifestyle website aimed at young working women. As a subscriber to this U.K.-based site, I am familiar with her point of reference.
Looking good and feeling confident at work can only take you so far, however, especially in this industry. Female PR veterans know how difficult it can be to work in a field where long hours can lead to burnout and/or fractured personal relationships. To survive goes far beyond having a basic skill set and the right handbag; it’s the intangibles learned only through experience that allow for success and career longevity.
To offer another frame of reference, I posed the question slightly different to a group of industry veterans: What do women in PR really need?
Here’s what they had to say:
The necessary accessories. “To be successful, a PR professional must possess business acumen [and] a depth of client knowledge and have the emotional resilience and intellectual capital to execute plans that help a client be profitable,” says Amy Howell, CEO of Howell Marketing Strategies in Memphis and co-author of Women In High Gear. “Successful women in PR also know how to work well with male counterparts, regardless of the situation. PR is not for the faint-of-heart, uneducated, or inexperienced woman.”
Self-promotion. “As an industry, we are so focused on supporting our clients or the companies we work for that we don’t make it a priority to promote ourselves—and we should,” says Jodi Echakowitz, CEO of Echo Communications, a PR and digital marketing agency focused on tech and mobile in Toronto. “Long term success means making the time and putting in a consistent effort to market myself, and the knowledge and expertise I’ve gained over 20+ years in PR. ”
Business mentoring. “Women need to make a concerted effort to find a business mentor,” says Chicago-based Heather Whaling, president and founder of Geben Communication. “Coming out of college, many of us don’t truly understand the business side—for example, how to translate media placements or social network size into metrics the C-suite cares about, how to develop new business, or how to charge for our services. A mentor who can share this kind of knowledge would be hugely valuable for women in PR.”
A supportive network. “This is a critical component to success, especially if you have kids,” says Holly Roy, principal of Pumpkin PR in Edmonton, Alberta. “Issues don’t conveniently require attention between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Work to build relationships with people who will support you in your career.”
A sense of seriousness. “We have to stop taking pride in this being a business about being good-looking [and] fashionable and party planning,” says Lisa Brock of Brock Communications in Tampa, Fla. “When I was younger, I wanted to be taken seriously, and I knew that to get asked into that Board Room where all the big boys were—and they were all men back then—I had to treat it like a serious business. Even when I challenged the status quo—which was often and not always graceful—no one could say I was not prepared for whatever position I was taking.”