Does your public relations agency’s management pester their female staff to get collagen injections to thicken their lips? Do they show up on employees’ dates with romantic prospects to weigh in on their suitability? Do they purchase sex toys they think will resonate with individual staffers? This is the “real world” portrayed on reality television about public relations professionals with the newest entrant, The Spin Crowd now running on E! Entertainment Television.
As a public relations professional who has held senior positions at three of the top global public relations agencies, I can safely say that before the advent of reality TV’s glimpse into the PR sector, I’ve never seen such blatantly sexist and hostile workplaces in action. If these types of behaviors ever occurred, there would be tears of joys flowing from workplace discrimination attorneys eager to cash in on litigation.
George Carlin once said that, “the caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity.” The caterpillars of the public relations world are focused on the tactical work of their craft. Minus the glamour of reality television, they are drafting bylined articles for company CEOs, researching and writing case studies, and coming up with novel ways for their clients to be woven into the national media discourse. My fellow PR caterpillars are orchestrating events for clients and toiling away ensuring that media are in attendance and that every detail of an event is effectively managed and produced. They are crafting social media content for their client’s Facebook, Twitter and blog accounts.
In 2003, when I launched my agency, Kelly Cutrone, star of the Kell on Earth show that aired on Bravo, called my client and me into her office for a meeting. She noted a placement I’d made for my client that ran in the Marketplace section of The Wall Street Journal, and she sought to jump on that media rollercoaster by reaching out to that same reporter with a fashion-related story that wove both her client and mine into the mix. It was a strategy that paid off in spades, with my small client getting exposure in the Wall Street Journal twice in four months. I liked and respected the Kelly Cutrone I met that day, and admired her ability to juggle single parenthood with the onerous demands of fashion public relations.
Turns out making Wall Street Journal placements is not the basis for scintillating reality television, so most of the Kell on Earth programs I watched—yes, it was a guilty pleasure—focused on the histrionics of junior staffers and Kelly’s meddling in staff’s personal lives. It also involved Kelly haggling with clients over late invoices and even getting fired by a client. There’s not a business owner alive who can’t relate to the frustrations of bill collections as well as the nuances of temperamental and demanding clients who fire first and ask questions later.
Even though there is considerable entertainment value to reality shows pretending to show the “real world” of public relations and actual working publicists can easily ferret out truth from fiction, the potential of negative market perception is genuine. If your only knowledge about publicists came from reality television, your perception of us would be as crass and sexist spinmeisters who are flagrant EEOC offenders. Rather than primping for their close-up on national television, most public relations professionals I know are busy generating media placements for their clients. Let’s applaud the hardworking men and women in the public relations field who work respectfully with their colleagues while proactively generating communications dividends each and every day. They may not be ready for their close-up, but they’re getting you ready for yours.
Nancy Tamosaitis-Thompson, is president of Vorticom Inc., www.vorticom.com, a New York-based public relations consultancy. She can be reached at email@example.com.