Meet the men of PR: ‘It is a different world for us’

It can get lonely for a guy in PR.

One senior exec with more than 15 years experience has often found himself to be the only man in the room. He recalls one meeting in particular when, while waiting for things to get started, a female colleague gushed about Tory Burch. Others joined in. “I had no idea what in the world they were talking about,” he said. “She responded, ‘You don’t know what Tory Burch is?’ And the rest of the women were like, ‘Really?’”

Yeah, really.

Sure, the smallest violin in the world plays the saddest song for this fellow. And yet, at some of the companies he’s worked for, he was often excluded from happy hour because the rest of his colleagues wanted a girls night out. He’s been left out of office perks, like manicures, when there was no macho equivalent.

“Most PR firms have much more of a female culture,” he said. “PR is a field where in most cases, there are more women than men, so the culture shifts in that direction. It is a different world for us.”

Out of 14 male PR professionals Digiday reached out for this article, a few even experienced some form of outright sexism at work, especially when they serve sectors like music, entertainment and lifestyle.

A female-led industry
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 61.3 percent of the PR industry (and 69 percent of Public Relations Society of America’s members). That’s a far cry from the business and financial sectors, where they make up 43.6 percent of the workforce. They comprise just 27.2 percent of the computer and information systems industries, according to BLS.

While there has been no real research into why there are more women than men in PR, the conventional notion holds that PR is appealing to women as a career choice because it requires a substantial investment in building relationships and expanding lines of communications, two areas that women have historically excelled at compared to their male peers.

From a sociological perspective, women have flooded the workforce at greater and greater numbers over the past 40 years – especially in PR, HR and accounting, said Paula England, professor of sociology and director of graduate studies at New York University. The phenomenon starts at the top of the funnel: One graduate student in New York University’s PR and Corporate Communication Program told Digiday that only five out of 30 students in his class are male.

“Why women and men don’t go to certain fields also applies to segregation in majors. Women usually major in liberal arts,” said NYU’s England. “Some universities have programs that encourage women to go into men-led fields like computer science, but few have programs that encourage men to enter into female-led fields like PR and nursing.”

From agency to agency, experiences vary 
Another male associate at a big New York City-based PR firm we spoke with started his PR career at an agency that specializes in travel and luxury. But he felt out of place.  “It was like a sorority house – every girl was the same and they liked talking about Kim Kardashian. If you were not a sorority girl who was into superficial things, there was no place for you,” he said. “I thought at the time that maybe I made a wrong move to enter into PR. But now I’m happy at my current agency, so I think agency culture is critical for men who want to work in PR.”

Email and phone conversations with both female and male PR professionals for this article suggest that — surprise, surprise! — agency culture is skewed toward women in sectors like music, travel, entertainment and lifestyle, while it’s more balanced in sectors like technology, crisis management and corporate communications. A female PR rep, for example, told Digiday that her former employer (a lifestyle PR agency) didn’t even have a male bathroom while there were two female bathrooms and one unisex bathroom.

Of course, it goes the other way, too. When Greg Brooks, a principal at PR firm West Third Group, recently visited a top-tier crisis management company in New York City, he immediately spotted something “abnormal”: Only around 25 percent of the staff were women, and no one there got paid less than $300 an hour. “[Perhaps] men in PR tend to gravitate away from lifestyle or entertainment and into the more-remunerative areas like crisis and corporate,” said Brooks.

PR needs more diversity
While many big brands and holding companies have made diversity a key part of business practices for this year, PR agencies need more diversity, as well.“We cannot be a good PR consultant if our team cannot reflect the community we serve, so PR needs to be diverse,” said Doug Levy, chief strategist of Doug Levy Strategic Communications and formerly chief communications officer for Columbia University Medical Center. “Clients may have their bias. But on the PR side, I don’t care what you look like and what language you speak as long as you can deliver results.”

William Daddi, president of Daddi Brand Communications, agreed that as an agency owner, the first and foremost consideration is to hire someone who can perform, regardless of what gender they are. He told Digiday that “the more diverse experiences you have, the better in PR you can be.”

While Mark Lee, a finance professional-turned agency co-founder of Hokku PR, adds that men can bring a different thinking to the table. “I can feel the gap. Sometimes my female partner can relate to more clients, but sometimes clients prefer working with me because of my business background,” said Lee. “Being a male or female doesn’t matter. I have much more respect for PR now than when I was in finance.”

And yet, every executive doing the hiring in the preceding paragraphs shares a characteristic: a Y chromosome. Which speaks to a separate issue entirely. For an industry where being a man puts you in the minority, there’s no shortage of them in the c-suite.

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