Stereotypical public relations practitioners – the fluffy and ditzy ones – are often referred to as the so-called PR Bunnies. This is a label that appears to drive women working in the PR industry mad. I am not sure of the exact origins of the name, but according to Tara Smith of Marketing Communications blog, the Bunnies were first mentioned in a series of US press articles written during the dot-com craze, covering “annoying Bunny traits”, ranging from “breathless calls to the media hyping some new e-product” to “the hottest new trend in PR: rich executives marrying their much younger, very attractive PR reps”. Smith actually believes that these stereotypes had some element of truth to them, as at the time
“PR firms were so short-staffed that they were hiring whoever walked in the door and providing little or no training… Since the majority of people in PR are female anyways… well, you can see what happened.”
In her blog entry titled “How NOT to be a PR Bunny” Smith goes on to give tips on for anyone who is “interested in doing [their] part to combat the poor image of women in PR and wants to avoid being mistaken for a PR bunny”. While most of her recommendations are quite obvious, easily applicable to any professional field, I do think that Smith gives some excellent, well-written advice which should be checked out by anyone working or planning to work in the PR industry. And judging by the amount of positive comments her entry generated, many current as well as aspiring PR practitioners found her advice very useful.
Smith’s tips include dressing professionally and appropriately, being always well-prepared for meetings in advance, knowing your pitch backwards and forwards, being punctual, always participating in meetings, letting people know that you are serious about your career and volunteering to help. She also warns against wearing high heels to a trade show, taking advantage of the bar at events or in any other business-related setting, getting romantically involved with co-workers and clients or even giving others a reason to suspect you might be, gossiping and crying at the office. Above all, Smith argues that, if you are a woman, in order to survive in the PR field, you have to grow a thick skin.
“Because of the stereotypes around women in PR/marketing, you will often find yourself surrounded by men who will
a) talk down to you (sometimes without even realizing it)
b) completely disregard what you have to say (particularly when you are younger)
c) hit on you
It’s annoying and sometimes extremely offensive, but don’t take it personally. That said, if you run into any serious problems that could be categorised as sexual harassment, report it to your supervisor and/or talk to someone in your human resource department”.
Finally, just to demonstrate that the label of a PR Bunny is still very much of a current issue, Robert French of infOpinions? blog sparked a debate last year by criticising Canada-based practitioners PRGirlz for their choice of name for their blog, claiming the term “girls”, when used to refer to grown women, is derogatory and may serve to reinforce the stereotype of PR Bunnies – “vacuous little pretty girls as office dressing and shuffled off to perform clerical duties deemed to be beneath PR management, which is most often male”. He concludes that:
“There are too many contemptuous perceptions of PR and those that practice it. Why play into the stereotype?”
I personally feel that comments like his do even more to reinforce the existing stereotypes. Perhaps if people were less critical of women in public relations, the practitioners could demonstrate what they are really worth professionally. But if women cannot even refer to themselves as “girls” on a blog without their professional credibility being questioned, how are we ever going to get rid of the stereotypes?
What do you think?