Ten years -- that's how long ago I started my Public Relations Atelier. In a decade, I've seen the field of Public Relations transform itself and, yes, the P and the R are purposely in caps because I consider them to be lettres de noblesse. For years, the average person on the street couldn't really explain what people in Public Relations do and even if there are still traces of this lack of knowledge today, at the very least, people now have an image of what they think PR is: Samantha Jones of Sex And The City. And that's the problem.
Yes, I know Samantha Jones is fiction, but Sex And The City was such a phenomenon and still has such influence that now many think they know New York without ever stepping a foot in it, can spot Manolo Blahniks without ever owning a pair and think they understand the PR profession. All because of Samantha Jones.
Albeit successful (how else can one afford an apartment in New York's meat-packing district?), Sam Jones was a promiscuous party-hopping commitment-phobic PR professional. I don't judge promiscuity, party-hopping or commitment-phobia but people in Public Relations shouldn't be stuck with such stereotypes. The problem doesn't only come from popular television. It sometimes comes from industry "insiders." In a recent article entitled "How to Apply PR Skills at Networking Events," the article's author writes: "The best female publicists know how and when to reveal a bra strap."
No, moron. The best publicists know how and when to get their clients' names out there.
And then there are the notorious PR Girls, a term I could live without. You know the type: those who think that hosting a party or writing one press release makes them a PR professional. That's like saying putting a band-aid on someone makes you a nurse. And of course, there are the PR Girls that have been all over the news thanks to their antics, and not their work.
In 2001, Manhattan socialite and media-dubbed PR GirlLizzie Grubman ran over bystanders with her Mercedes SUV, in front of a club in the Hamptons, reinforcing that whole party-hopping stereotype while giving PR (and Mercedes) a black eye. When a Canadian was recently arrested for stalking Alec Baldwin, the only consistency in most of the news reports was that she had been a publicist. The whole industry thanks you, Genevieve Sabourin.
These PR Girls have unfortunately become the faces of an industry that is deeper and more complex than any superficiality they bring to it. Because guess what, girls? PR is about the art of communication. PR is more than parties, guests lists and velvet ropes. To borrow and paraphrase an expression from ABC's addictive new show Scandal, in Public Relations, "we are gladiators."
The field is composed of strategists, crisis managers, brand alchemists, message maestros and thinkers who must sometimes find ways to sell what may seem unsellable, explain what may seem inexplicable and who must find ways to stand out and tell stories in a world that now suffers from acute attention deficit disorder. They do their work in offices where the lights are always on, and on Blackberries -- because although caricature-like, that Blackberry image is not a stereotype.
But I rejoice as I know Public Relations will regain its lettres de noblesse because the next generation coming up in the field is not only made of those whose sole ambition is to make it into the gossip pages. It's also made of those who have studied the craft, paid their dues and understand the industry's complexities and challenges. I know because I've been lucky enough to work with them. And soon enough, they will eclipse the Lizzies and Genevieves of the industry and even the average person in the street will notice.