Thinkin’ about marketing, pseudo events and why men don’t study public relations

s23315429_34756649_7468.jpgMy attention span this week measures in nanoseconds.

Nothing like the start of a semester to destroy all focus. Take today. I sent my first email at 7:22 a.m., my most recent at 7:56 p.m. It was my 50th email sent today and I ain’t done. I received and read nearly 100. And I missed lunch — dammit.

We all have those days, but I have them every day. So since I don’t have time to write a thoughtful post, I offer these random rambling thoughts.

male.pngPR is looking for a few good men — but I’ll settle for one, maybe two. My PR Case Studies class, for the second semester in a row, is 100% female. In the previous year, just 7 men completed this gateway class and moved on in the major along with 36 women. Our 90-10 ratio reflects a national trend in the field.

I’ve written about this in the past, but now I’ve decided to do something about it. This semester, my PR Case Studies class will examine the gender imbalance in PR education and they’ll try to determine what’s causing it. We hope to survey freshman at 5 large universities, but I also expect my students will interview professionals and high school advisers, and, of course, examine past research on the topic. More about this as the project unfolds.

But let me speculate for a sec. Does PR need a new name? When last I wrote on this issue, my friend and Kent State alum Dino Baskovic posted this comment:

Not to be crass, but is PR viewed as a “chick” degree? It didn’t seem so when you took me in (from those cold, dreary days of architecture studio). It did seem odd that I was outnumbered 10-1…so maybe it gets back to recruiting.

Maybe Dino’s right. Maybe we just need a more aggressive effort to reach men. But I wonder if the term “PR” is too “soft” for the testosterone-driven among us. Might some young men see “relationship building” as too touchy-feely. Just thinkin’ out loud. I do that a lot here.

Bojinka Bishop, a colleague at Ohio University (my alma mater), added this comment to an email we exchanged yesterday. She gave me permission to share it.

An interesting anecdote – I also teach in what used to be called the “Global Learning Community” — about 85% female. The name was changed to the Global Leadership Center a couple of years ago — now we are 60% female. It would be interesting to see how many males vs females are in programs called marketing communication or corporate communication.

What’s in a name? Apparently quite a bit.

***************

images1.jpg The pseudo event is alive and well in Akron, Ohio. Just ask Zippy, that cute kangaroo mascot who bounces around at UofA athletic events. Zippy was voted the nation’s top collegiate sports mascot in a contrived event sponsored by Capital One during the recent bowl season. It proves that creative PR people can still, indeed, make headlines while they bambozzle the MSM into reporting on trivial things.

I mean no disrespect to Akron U or Capital One with that comment. The campaign worked well, drawing plenty of attention to its sponsor, and to the schools that played the game. UofA’s athletic department used viral email to encourage alumni and friends to vote, and it worked for them.

It’s pretty clear that Ohio State, Florida and other football powers didn’t give a flip about this contest, or they’d have knocked Zippy out in round one. But the folks at UofA siezed the moment, and that’s often what successful PR campaigns depend upon — opportunity.

It was a fun campaign, that also brought positive attention to UofA’s plan for a new $60-million football stadium. Say what? That’s no typo. Come 2009, the Zips will play their 5 home games there. And who knows, maybe they’ll will find something to do with it the other 360 days a year, too.

muumuucoversmallgrn.gifI’m a college football fan, but I’m one unhappy Ohio taxpayer knowing some of my dollars will fund this boondoggle. And it has me wondering if another Zippy is running the university.

UofA plays in the MAC, perhaps the least competitive football conference in Division IA. Only a year ago, UofA was one of 12 programs threatened with expulsion from the Division IA ranks because of low attendance. My school, Kent State, was also one of those 12, but we fixed it by serving beer at the tailgate parties. Sort of a no-brainer.

But no matter what happens, Zippy is still number one in the hearts of people who have nothing better to do than vote on the Internet. I voted for the little critter, but only after watching this clip on YouTube — and placed here for your convenience. It’s where I learned that Zippy’s a PR major. Update: My wife, who reads this blog only on rare occasion, tells me the role of Zippy is now played by a female. Is anyone surprised?

images-11.jpg Is AMA taking lessons in PR. Don’t believe me? Check out the new definition for “marketing,” and say arrivederci to the 4 Ps — or was it 5?

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

Thanks to Judy Gombita for the link and to Mitch Joel for his thoughts. As you may know, I’m a bit suspicious of marketers, but this definition tells me they’ve been taking PR classes and looking beyond the “transaction” that has traditionally driven the marketing machine. That’s good news, I think. But maybe Mitch is right when he asks, “Did anyone know/care that there was a definition for Marketing?”

Until we meet again…

48 Responses to Thinkin’ about marketing, pseudo events and why men don’t study public relations

  1. mediatide says:

    How to get more males in the PR major? HELLO! Tell them that there’s 9 girls for every boy! That’s even better than Surf City!

  2. Shelley Prisco says:

    I hate that song, “Surf City.” I hear it all the time at work. It disgusts me. Must we always need sexual innuendo to promote something?

  3. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hmmm. I knew Andy’s comment was a tad un-PC, but I encourage that here. Shelly, sorry it offended you, but “sexual innuendo” came in only the most subtle of forms when Jan & Dean released that song in 1963. Ah, it was an innocent time. I know. I was 10. And Andrew, no references to “California Girls” on this blog, OK?

  4. Breeze says:

    You folks are too subtle for me; I can find neither the un-PC aspect of the first comment, nor the disgusting sexual innuendo of “Surf City.”

  5. Bill Huey says:

    Why PR is a “chick” degree:

    ·Chicks have adopted PR as the new education major
    ·Chicks teach it
    ·Chicks work for less money, something the agencies love
    ·Chicks think PR is about relationships, something chicks are good at.
    ·Chicks stick together. The more chicks working in PR, the more who will major in it
    ·Chicks appear as PR gals in more movies and television shows, instead of as teachers, nurses or homemakers. It’s seems more chic and upscale

  6. Bill,
    next week I begin my third ‘global relations and intercultural communication’ course at nyu’s master in public relations and corporate communication and, for the first time (at least from what I have gathered browsing through the class roster), I also will have a mono gender class (it was 80/90% in the previous ones).

    Recently a higly regarded Italian professional, Anna Adriani, director of external relations for Illy caffè, one of my country’s (few) entrepreneurial jewels and most innovative and responsible communicators, in an interview said that when she started out in the early eighties her (then) boss (i.e. me) had argued that the continuos increase of women in the profession would have inevitably made its reputation suffer. This comment -she told the interviewer- made by a person who I admired, shocked me and made me wonder if I had chosen the right job.
    She was elegant enough not to cite me directly, but I called her after having read it and asked her if she had not since changed her mind.
    Yes, she told me, I have…I believe we should do much more than what we are doing as a professional community to attract also young males…

    I am wary of raising the name issue: if public relations was authentically related, as you imply, to the relationships connotation, then I would leave it there as it would be, in my view, a major step forward with respect to the communication one we still very much have and which many colleagues seem to prefer.
    Relationships might have a ‘chick’ connotation, but communication certainly does not have a ‘chique’ one….
    I would certainly go for the first: we assist organizations in developing effective relationships with influential publics and use communicative tools to do this.

  7. Dino Baskovic says:

    Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for having a public relations degree. It amuses me to no end to tell people that I have a B.S. in P.R. Hi-Yo.

    Still, it’s not like I was sitting there in second grading thinking, “boy, oh boy, I want to be in PR.” I didn’t know what PR was until you told me in an Intro to Mass Comm section (recall I was still finding my way shortly after my departure from the land of Lego and ego on the fourth floor).

    Guys have no qualms getting into a “business” degree. They see themselves signing dotted lines on cocktail napkins, schlepping clients on the back nine, hair perfectly coiffed. It goes downhill from there. “Marketing” degrees sound like “Sales” degrees. “Advertising” means you sleep with your boss and/or wear black all year. And “public relations” remains a mystery except you know that Dana Perino does PR for George Bush, and Dana Perino is kinda hot.

    Look, I don’t actually think any of that. Except the part about Perino. She is hot. But if I were still 19, that’s how I’d think. “PR is that thing where you spin news or whatever.” And let’s face it, for all our efforts to arrive at a simplified definition of “What is PR?”, none of it makes a young man think, “Screw the engineering degree, I’ve gotta get into PR! Score!”

    So, yes, maybe you’ll have to play to that mentality as you recruit now and in the future. Us dumb guys do wise up eventually. Maybe you invite some male grads, near and far past, to come in and talk turkey. C’mon, you’re an outdoorsman, Bill. And you yourself have plenty of war stories. Gritty ones. Or at least I think you do. Have PRSSA tailgate out at the stadium in the fall. Don a sumo suit and take on all challengers at FlashFest in
    April. “Pummel the PR prof” or something. Make me proud, Bill. That was my event.

    I’m hoping Breeze weighs in on this convo, unless his honey-do list has him rethinking his recent nuptials. 🙂

  8. Hi Bill, the real injustice in this discussion is that men are still the majority when it comes to communications management, which I think reveals that execs often place a budding young star into a communications leadership role regardless of his background/major.

    In my experience in Corporate America, however, there were plenty of women bosses — to a certain level — though corporations also try to be “diverse” by placing a token female as CMO or top HR exec in the CEO’s management structure. I don’t see a great shift away from the glass ceiling…and most of the stats that attempt to prove otherwise are riddled with holes. But, I have a thoroughly cynical perception of the nation’s lack of progress in race and sexism, particularly in the corporate arena.

    Our PR sequence is 90 percent female at USF. An interesting twist, however, is that many of the top female students aspire to running their own shop in the future, which will hopefully enable them to thwart the glass ceiling. In Tampa, the number of female communications firm owners proves this out. For example, Deanne Roberts (a USF grad) founded and runs one of the top firms in the area. There are a handful of other female owners who wield significant authority on the local scene.

    From a larger viewpoint, I do think the popular culture view of PR has led to less male majors. The party planner/event planner perception (which drives me nuts!) isn’t one that entices male majors. In fact, some of my male graduates purposely took jobs out of school that were labeled “marketing” just to shed the PR moniker.

    As usual, you’ve raised an important point. In light of our politically correct age, people are so touchy and sensitive about these kinds of issues, which leads to platitudes (think of any CEO talking about diversity). I would love to see a broader (realistic) discussion of these issues.

    Thanks,
    Bob

  9. Jim Kenny says:

    Hi Bill, I’ve always enjoyed your posts and subsequent banter. I’m compelled to leave a comment that a former client just gave me as we parted at breakfast this morning.

    We were attempting to understand why a well-managed local corporation is so woefully underfunded when it comes to PR. He said, “Corporate communications is the female ghetto.”

    PR needs a fundamental change, a different value proposition and not a name change, which is only cosmetic.

  10. Bill Sledzik says:

    Seems we’ve struck on a hot topic this morning. Not sure what it means that 8 of the 9 comments come from men. And the one woman who has chimed in doesn’t work in PR at present.

    I want to address Bill Huey’s comment first, as it will be see as politically incorrect by many. That said, it rings true when we examine how and why PR is perceived by many people as a “chick” thing. Pop culture has cast comely young women in the public relations role, as in the case of Kim Katrall’s character in “Sex and the City.” Is it coincidence that we see more and more women coming to the PR major interested in music and talent promotion along with special events and party planning? Hmmm? Yes, the CJ character on “West Wing” was strong and capable, but she was often left out of the all-male inner circle — at least until the final season.

    It wouldn’t be the first time TV and films boosted the popularity of a college major. “All the President’s Men” did it for journalism in the 70s (followed the by the popular “Lou Grant” TV series). In the 90s and early 00s, schools saw a spike in the number of forensic chemistry majors. I’m certain you can trace this to CSI and other shows of that genre. It’s a postive thing when the role models in the media are good ones. But I don’t teach what Samantha did on TV — and I’ll leave it at that.

    But let’s not blame the media. Instead, let’s ask WHY the PR people are portrayed in such a way. Fact is, the function has long been stereotyped in the fluffy, press agent mold, and all our talk of the 2-way symmetrical model hasn’t changed that. Nor has 3 decades of PRSA’s rather futile attempts to do “PR for PR.”

    We all recognize that a change has taken place in the PR ranks over the years. But as Professor Bob points out, women are still struggling to reach the top spots in the field, and the most successful seem to do it by hanging out their own shingle. I see many, many women in top spots in the agency world, not so much in corporate. But the generation that dominates those jobs — mid Baby Boomers like me — are still primarily male. That will shift as we all retire.

    Thanks to Dino and Jim, two of the most thoughtful guys to come through the PRKent program. Dino offers even more anecdotal evidence of the perceptions we face, while Jim offers a very simple anecdote about the “female ghetto.” Both are too young to recall when PR first discussed the “velvet ghetto” phenomenon back in the mid 80s.

    Toni, I’m always honored when you stop by and share your wisdom. You also help us see that the gender imbalance isn’t just a USA phenomenon. That big ocean still tends to isolate us.

    I am hopeful that some women will weigh in on this thread. Or maybe this blog has the same kind of diversity problem as PR — only in reverse!

  11. Breeze says:

    Like Dino, I was drawn into the PR sequence by Bill’s presentation in the Mass Comm class. When I entered PRKent, most of the shining stars of the program were male. By the time I was in the Print/Broadcast courses, though, most of my classmates were women. I didn’t notice when the balance shifted, and I didn’t really care. If folks were bright and on-the-ball (as they surely were), gender wasn’t a concern.

    I feel the same about the matter today—as long as PRKent produces exceptional alumni, why should their gender be an issue? I don’t see the point of quota system that may raise the quantity of male students in the program but dilute the quality of the graduates (because they were “lured” into something in which they had less than total interest).

    I also can’t help but wonder whether there are majors, both at KSU and elsewhere, where a predominance of male students is cause for similar alarm.

    —-

    Ahem… FlashFest was your event, Dino?

  12. Tim Roberts says:

    I do believe pop culture has emphasized pr as a female profession (particularly TV and soap operas) and I agree “Sex and The City” popularized special events planning as a profession. (I am tempted to tell students who want to be party planners to change their major to hospitality management).

    At KSU JMC, I see the male/female trend in Media Writing, the core beginner course. The split is usually 65 percent female, 35 percent male, I’d guess. And MW takes in all majors and pre-majors in the school. But of those who drop the class, it is 90 percent male in my experience. They don’t like or can’t grasp the mechanics of writing.

    Weirdly enough, outside the school, I do not see the imbalance in the pr side. But I work in the steel industry and that is male-dominated, even on the pr level. Plus I do a lot of lobbying, and that field seems to be dominated by males, with a 75 percent male/25 percent female split. Fortunately, more females are entering this growing branch of pr. On the other hand, non-profit pr ( a lower pay scale) seems to be female dominated.

    An interesting topic worthy of further study. But I can’t write anymore because the David Lee Roth version of “California Girls” is playing non-stop in my head!

  13. Bill Sledzik says:

    Dang it, Tim. You had to do that — mention David Lee Roth. Now all day I’ll be singing “Ladies Night in Buffalo.” I don’t even like that guy, but the song sure was popular when I lived in Western New York.

    Good observations, but again, you operate at a high level of management and were educated in a time when the gender balance in both college programs and in PR practice was even, or maybe skewed toward men. At my first PR agency job — back in ’77 — there were no females above the “AS” level. Most of the staff, from AAE on up, was male. But we, too, dealt in a lot of “guy” industries — tires and automotive, beer, railroads, and steel. The women on our staff, though very capable, were relegated to the retail and hospitality accounts for the most part. But in fairness to our management, a lot of that was dictated by our clients.

  14. Jill says:

    Hi Bill – fascinating topic and I am not in PR as you may recall. However, I have been an informal student of women and leadership so here are some thoughts and have to say, I’m kind of shocked to learn that so many women are drawn to PR. To me, PR means spin and I always thought that, as a generalization, women don’t like spin – we see things as they are, want to communicate directly. This probably says more about me and how little I know about PR education.

    However, when I read what you wrote, before getting to any of the comments, I also thought, immediately, well yeah – they may be in the classroom but I would put good money on them being no where near the top of the PR companies. And, of course, that came up in the comments.

    I can’t believe that the one word “relations” would scare off men from the industry – makes me want to say, reflexively I admit – “Wooses!”

    If you like what the work is, what does it matter what the name is? Maybe PR just needs better PR?

    Thanks.

  15. Carli Cichocki says:

    Bill,

    Sometime during my junior year of college MTV aired a terrible reality show called “PoweR Girls.”

    Needless to say, if I told someone I was a PR major they didn’t ask me “so, what exactly do you do?” They said, “Ohhh like that show on MTV!”

    Below is the show summary from its Web site.

    “The life of a PoweR Girl at Lizzie Grubman’s New York City PR firm is sometimes glamorous, sometimes stressful but always exciting. Watch as Rachel, Kelly, Millie and Ali plan nightclub openings and album launches, hobnob with celebrities, wrangle the paparazzi, pitch Page Six and shop, all while fighting for a permanent spot on Lizzie’s team. Don’t miss the drama take over their lives as these four young ladies try to take over the celebrity party circuit all under the watchful eye of Lizzie on PoweR Girls.”

    I don’t know. Why would a 19 year old guy view PR as a “chick” major?? Beats me.

  16. Bill Sledzik says:

    I wish I could invite all who commented today out for cosmopolitans. But I’m having a bad hair day, and I don’t have anything to wear. Thanks for a lively Friday at ToughSledding. I hope the thread won’t end here. There is much to discuss.

  17. Laura says:

    On my first date with my fiancee, I told him that I was in public relations. His nonchalant response: “Oh yeah, pretty much every girl I meet wants to go into public relations, wedding planning or teaching.”

    His was just one of many typical comments I get when I tell people I’m in public relations. (And don’t worry, I’ve spent the last two years educating him on the higher value of communications).

    I hate it that people think I sit at work and plan parties all day. Sometimes I get so sick of explaining what I really do to people that I just don’t say anything and let them believe whatever they want. I’m not sure what’s behind the male aversion to PR. In my experience (here in Pittsburgh anyway), there are plenty of guys in the business, but the gender gap is evident even on our IABC/Pittsburgh board. We have ONE guy on the board out of 10 or 12 positions.

    Most of the guys in higher positions that I know are former journalists that turned to PR later in their careers. In fact, my fiancee (a once-aspiring sports broadcaster who is an associate producer at FSN Pittsburgh) often says he should get into PR (now that he knows what it is). It makes me wonder if our profession is a just a last resort for disgruntled journalists, but that’s a topic for another day.

  18. Jill says:

    Bill, I can only add, I had no idea – none at all about the image of the PR profession. I can tell you that as a freelance writer, I hate it when places I go to visit for an article “set me up” with their “PR people.” I hate it because I don’t expect to get the real deal. But I never think about it in terms of men or women. This is very interesting!

  19. Ike Pigott says:

    I’m a converted broadcaster, who did well in the very tiny sample of PR material I encountered along the way. But back when I was in college, the broadcast-J program was very much trending female. It seemed to be related to the economic aspects. Also, women in broadcast news move up faster as youth is a commodity – and because men tend to age more gracefully and stick around longer, there are more opportunities for women to move up. (gasp. I am so un-PC, but it is what it is…)

    I wonder how the gender inequity will change as PR slowly, slowly, slowly becomes geekier and more tech-savvy.

  20. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hmmm. Ike raises a great question. What happens when PR jobs require more “geek” skills not traditionally attractive to females? I’d counter this by telling you the best bloggers in our PR Online Tactics class are women, but, women are pretty much all we have in those classes, so that proves nothing. Software today for most of the new toys is pretty easy to use. I haven’t a geek bone in my body, and I get by. Hell, even I teach students how to use it.

    That said, I’m not a new media adventurer — (I would have said “explorer, but Jason might accuse me of trademark infringement). While I’m not an early adopter, I read the early adopters so I can stay ahead of the crowd. I learn about the new stuff from folks like Holtz, Rubel, et. al., but I use only what suits my needs. I love new toys, but am not inherently curious about them. I simply want toys that serve my clients’ needs, which is why 2nd Life and Twitter are not part of my daily routine.

  21. […] to include a reference to Dana Perino so that I would have a reason to link to Bill Sledzik’s ToughSledding blog. There is really an interesting and important discussion there about women and public […]

  22. Greg Smith says:

    How much have I written on this subject? A (2006) PhD Thesis, that’s how much. Apart from the (scientific) fact that women are better communicators, PR is seen by men just as you say, Bill – a “chick” degree.

    Men are interested in marketing and advertising because, in most cases, you can measure them. The perception of PR also doesn’t help. PR is in dire need of PR. The trouble is, the industry body (at least here in Australia) doesn’t realise it.

    For more information on my study, go to http://people.aapt.net.au/~net/study
    There are links there to download the study summary.

  23. Stacy Wessels says:

    Diversity in the classroom benefits everyone, but I agree with Breeze about gender being less important than exceptional skills.

  24. Bill Sledzik says:

    I don’t think anyone will argue that, Stacy. But if you believe in diversity, gender has to be part of the equation, and it’s critical to assembling teams with a broad perspective.

  25. Ike Pigott says:

    Bill… does this mean that there might eventually be an economic scarcity of male perspectives in Public Relations — that would lead to increased salaries to meet that demand?

    Now THAT would be a fun little spin job for a company, explaining why it has to pay its men more to keep them around.

  26. Bill Sledzik says:

    The scarcity of men already exists, Ike. Many employers I run into are subtly recruiting men over women — though they never say so in writing. And don’t worry about the pay issue. Research shows us men were making more than women long before they became and endangered species in this business. But as Bob Batchelor pointed out, that’s an equity issue, not an economic one.

    One more thing: As part of our “PR for PR” here at Kent State, we don’t condone use of the word “spin,” as it’s too closely associated with the liars in Washington who call themselves PR practitioners. As advocates, it’s our job to help client’s tell their stories. When we “spin” those stories we deviate from truth, and smart people figure that out quickly.

    As a longtime social media denizen, Ike, you know the value of trust as well as anyone. That said, I’m troubled at how freely PR bloggers toss around words like “spin” and “flack” — many even using those words in their blog titles. Is this further evidence the “PR for PR” campaigns are failing, or do we just not care how the business is perceived?

    I think there’s a post on that topic, but right now I gotta go work out. I gained 8 pounds over the holidays, and my wardrobe is telling me there’s no spinning that little reality!

  27. Judy Gombita says:

    “I think there’s a post on that topic, but right now I gotta go work out. I gained 8 pounds over the holidays, and my wardrobe is telling me there’s no spinning that little reality!”

    Not true! Spin/spinning classes are one of the very best workouts!

    From Spinning: What is Spinning

    Why we love it: Spinning burns serious calories (about 450 in 45 minutes) and offers an awesome aerobic workout that makes your heart pump fast. It also tones your quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and outer thigh muscles like nobody’s business! Because you stay in one place with the same basic movement throughout, Spinning doesn’t involve a lot of coordination; it’s easier to concentrate on your form than in other types of aerobic classes. And although you follow the general instructions of the spinning teacher, you are in control when it comes to your pace. You can finish a spin class, regardless of your fitness level, simply by adjusting your pace or the tension knob on the bike.

  28. Breeze says:

    But if you believe in diversity, gender has to be part of the equation, and it’s critical to assembling teams with a broad perspective.
    Are women incapable of offering a broad range of perspectives on their own?

    I’m still of the opinion that I’ll take good ideas from smart people, regardless of their gender.

  29. Bill Sledzik says:

    Breeze,

    Of course women are perfectly capable of coming up with ideas on their own. So are men. So are folks who are black, white, brown yellow, old, young and in between. But each group — distinguished by race, ethnicity, age or gender, brings to the table a different perspective based on their socialization. Just today, a professional contact said he’s seeking a junior-level PR type who knows a lot about hunting and the outdoors. While that doesn’t exclude women, I’m betting most of the candidates in his job search will be guys — if he can find any. Just a hunch.

    Don’t make me send you my copy of that awful book, “Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus.” I’ve been itching to get that dog off my bookshelf!

  30. Breeze says:

    I understand what diversity is, Bill. I did go to KSU, no? My question is (and has been, since those halcyon days in Kent) how do you manufacture diversity?

    Can a group thrown together based on demographics going to be as effective as a group of people who share a common career focus?

  31. […] Slezdick of Tough Sledding hits on a touchy though increasingly relevant subject that in the past was referred to as the […]

  32. Bill Sledzik says:

    Brian: I’m not suggesting we “throw together” a group based on demographics. I AM suggesting we strive — and very deliberately — for a more diverse workforce in PR. Does that constitute “manufacturing” of diversity? To some degree I guess it does, but that’s true of any diversity initiative, as they all involve social engineering.

    But let’s be honest, if any group other than men were underrepresented in our business, this issue would be atop the agenda of every professional PR group in the land.

  33. Breeze says:

    We can debate the terminology, but if your aim is to attract a group to your major that otherwise was not/is not inclined to pursue it, and that aim is based on the group’s gender, then you are manufacturing a result that otherwise would not occur or has not occurred (according to your previous observations about the demographic makeup of your classes).

    Call it engineering if you like. However you go about it and whatever you call it, I’ll be interested to see how you avoid the quantity-versus-quality pitfall I mentioned previously.

  34. Bill Sledzik says:

    Same way as we do when they’re all female. We fail the ones who can’t cut it.

  35. Dino Baskovic says:

    I guess we’ll learn the answer to the “why the gender imbalance?” question as your PR Case Studies class nears the end of the semester. Perhaps then we’ll have even more questions pertaining to other demographics and psychographics.

    That said, do you want more men in the field, or at least in PRKent, and if so, why?

    (Oh, and to be fair to Breeze, he too was among a short list of FlashFest grand poobahs. Has it really been 13 years?)

  36. Bill Sledzik says:

    To Dino’s question: “…do you want more men in the field, or at least in PRKent, and if so, why?

    An emphatic YES. And here’s why:

    1) It’s good for the business, because it diversifies the workforce — at least the under-30 part of it. I’ve made my case on that throughout this thread, so I won’t rehash.

    2) It’s good for our program. Right now, we’re only fishing half the lake, to use an awkward analogy. If more young men are attracted to the PR major, it helps grow the program. I don’t want growth at the expense of quality, but let’s remember that every student has to survive Print Beat and PR Case Studies on the front end. About 30% do not. Growth of enrollment brings with it tuition subsidies and other resources that don’t go to programs with flat or declining enrollments.

    3) Promoting diversity is the right thing to do. I’ll mention that our aggressive diversity program in Kent JMC, which focuses heavily on recruiting students of color, seems to be working well. Kudos to Gene Shelton for his hard work in that area. This academic year, about 20% of the Case Studies enrollment has consisted of African American students. That’s more than twice the university’s overall numbers.

  37. Dino Baskovic says:

    Fair enough. I don’t disagree with you, to cast a trendy double negative.

    So let’s get to the core of this: What value do men bring to PR? I’m not talking intrinsically (i.e. “It’s good for diversity”), nor am I implying that men bring more or less value to PR than do woman.* I’m talking “tangible intangibles” such as, say, distinctly different interpersonal skills.

    Or, is it our supposed knack for singular attentiveness that our multitasking female counterparts can’t match, according to whatever those studies say?

    Maybe it’s a chemistry thing. Hmm. Thoughts?

    * Geez, can I qualify my statements to be P.C. any more? Any hooter…

  38. Bill Sledzik says:

    I like to tell the story about my fight with Tommy T back when I was 8. The kid had been pushing me around for weeks, and I was taking it. My dad urged to to stand up to him, even if it meant trading a few punches. So I did. Lost the fight, but Tommy didn’t mess with me again. We had reached accord. Had a been a girl, I suspect I’d have gotten different parental counsel — something on the order of “Play nice and try to get along.”

    I’m not saying I want men at the PR table because they’re more prone to kick my ass. I’m too old for that crap. But we all know that men and women are socialized into the culture very differently and, as such, we tend to approach problem-solving with a different bias.

    Here’s where I cross into generalizations, which could be trouble (but not likely, since this is comment #36 in a thread most have abandoned). Assuming our socialization leads men to be more combative (and often more competitive), men may look more closely at a PR strategy that involves confrontation over compromise. And sometimes that’s the correct strategy, especially in crisis.

    Eric Dezenhall, in his book, “Damage Control,” makes that case that too often PR types are quick to acquiesce, and to empathize — to quick to make “nice” with those who attack us. Nowhere does Eric make a gender issue of this, but it does raise the question of whether the 2-way symmetrical model is always the right choice. And it brings me back to a belief that men and women have differing worldviews on many things.

    The “chemistry” thing probably makes a difference in the more traditional industries, but as more women take their their places as heads of PR firms and departments, that’s going away. But I’ll close this comment by coming back back to my assumption that there is something inherently positive about having the makeup of your PR staff reflect the makeup key publics you hope to communicate with. (Yikes! Did I really say “makeup”?)

    I first learned this from our mutual friend and mentor, Gerry Lundy (rest his soul), when he was the only African American on the professional staff at the Franco PR firm, then the largest PR firm in a city that was home to 2 million black citizens. Gerry was the ONLY guy in the shop who could provide useful counsel on community relations initiatives for our clients, because he had lived it. Just as blacks have experiences whites do not, men have experiences women do not. It’s an intangible, to be sure, but it’s real.

  39. Greg Willis says:

    Bill,

    As one of the few dudes that made it through the PR Kent program, I’ve been following this post and the subsequent comments with particular interest. For what it’s worth, I was never bothered that there was something like a 4:1 ratio of women in any of my PR classes. Can’t figure out why.

    I could see where young men going into college wouldn’t be particularly responsive to the idea of a PR degree, when getting one in newspaper, magazine or television journalism sounds a little more bad ass. Additionally, I could see where they might not care to take the time to appreciate and truly understand the PR profession.

    But I wonder how much that perception changes as men grow older and gain years of professional experience utilizing those journalism degrees. As a journalist , not only would you begin to understand and appreciate the value of public relations, but you could would welcome the hours a little more; all the more important when you’re raising a family.

    My thoughts could be completely off-base, and I’ve only got one case study to base it on: it’s the experience of my current PR director, who cut his teeth as a TV producer for First Coast News here in Jacksonville. He’s told me stories about how the news team literally lived at the studio during hurricane season, not a living conducive to a great family life.

    It would be fascinating to see a study of men in the PR field to determine how they made their way there. Much like defining public relations, ask 100 people and you’re likely to get 100 different answers. But I have a hunch that a large portion may have made the jump from journalism to the dark side after some years of professional work. So perhaps the question lies with those men currently working in the PR industry: Just why the hell are you here, anyway?

    P.S. Two Steelers home losses to the Jags this season; that must sting!

  40. Dino Baskovic says:

    Fitting. The conversation ends on football.
    🙂

  41. Bill Sledzik says:

    Steeler football. Wait ’til next year, man. Just wait ’til next year.

  42. Breeze says:

    Maybe if football and other manly topics came up more often in PR courses…

  43. Bill Sledzik says:

    It took 42 comments to get here, but I have reversed my position on the shortage of men in PR. If we succeed in attracting more men to the PR major at Kent State, most of them are likely to come from Northeast Ohio. That means 95% of them will be insufferable Browns’ fans. Let’s rethink this whole issue.

  44. Sally Hodge says:

    Jeez, I feel like a Johnny, er, Jill, come lately to this very relevant thread on on the imbalance between men and women in PR! If there’s room for 2-cents more…

    I’ve owned my agency for 20 years, starting it after having spent years in financial journalism. I have consistently tried to recruit guys to my staff. The sharp ones were clearly holding out for jobs with big agencies, and probably got them. Too many of the others clearly didn’t have the kind of educational grounding that it looks like Bill Sledzik provides — they saw the role of the agency as being a press release factory/pitching machine. I needed people (men and women) who saw more the opportunities to be strategic communications partners, or who had the spark and could be grown to get there.

    Today, my staff of ten includes three men, partially due to certain conditions in the marketplace and partially because I’m willing to take greenies and train them. First, the travails of the traditional news business have made former journalists more receptive. Two of the guys are in this category, and once I beat the attitude out of them (LOL) and got them to shift their perspective, they’ve proven to be huge assets to my business. A third came from the staffing industry; I gave him the opportunity to learn a new business. Boy, was he surprised to find out events are only a tiny part of the business!

    If we can’t get male PR pros fresh from the classroom, we have to grow our own.

  45. Bill Sledzik says:

    This thread remains open forever, Sally. I’m happy you came by. Let’s keep it going.

    You cite an interesting point — the idea of pulling smart people from other disciplines and “growing your own.” That’s how it happened for years. PR types came from journalism, sure, but they also came from English Lit, Philosophy, History and Psychology. Fact is, a critical thinker who can write will make the transition easily. Oh, they don’t know AP Style and may never have written a news release, but you pick it up. I know that’s not what I’m supposed to be saying as head of a professional PR program, but fact is, the best people I worked for and with over the years didn’t have degrees in public relations. But, damn, they were smart, well-read and well-rounded — usually products of small liberal-arts colleges.

  46. […] watching this video and reading recent discussions, it is quite evident that PR needs some […]

  47. Bill Huey says:

    Nice try, and I agree with much of your piece, but the last thing in the world PR needs is some “new spin,” or a one-liner that says “PR builds relationships. ” That’s like saying “lawyers seek justice for their clients.” Some lawyers do, but others seek only enrichment for themselves at the expense of society.
    Moreover, PR is about persuasion, not relationships. I can have relationships with a thousand editors and reporters, but if I can’t get one of them to write or print a meaningful story about a client, or help a client persuade them to do it, then it’s time to think about another line of work.
    As I’ve said elsewhere, PR is defined by its practice, and as long as people are making dinner reservations and planning parties but calling it PR, that is how PRwill be perceived.

  48. […] readers may recall that I raised this question back in January and kicked off a thread that drew 47 comments and went on for two […]

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