It was four years ago that Burson-Marsteller chairman Harold Burson startled his audience at a US conference by lamenting the dominance of women in the industry. Never afraid to speak his mind, he argued that when clients sought the services of a PR company they prefer input 'from a group of people balanced by gender' and that even women PROs themselves feel the lack of men in PR is 'unhealthy'.
Yet four years on the gender gap is still huge. While nearly all other industries have moved towards gender equality, PR remains unbalanced.
According to the CIPR, 83 per cent of students on PR undergraduate courses are female, rising to 92 per cent for post-grads. A survey by the PRCA last December revealed that 77 per cent of account executives and account managers are female.
The statistics would arguably not matter as long as good clients knew they were getting the best PR they can, but some voice concerns that the dearth of men is not doing the industry any favours. This is both from a client servicing point of view and from those who worry about the health of the PR industry at large - who argue that potential talent is being lost to other sectors because it isn't deemed a 'male' career.
A glance at the composition of some agencies reveals this. Golin Harris has just two men out of 38 staff. One of them, David Milsom muses, 'I don't have any male friends in PR - and people questioned what I was doing'.
Fuse PR has only four out of 15. Account exec Dan Alder jokes that the five-a-side team is no more, (it used to be six men out of 10), but some are becoming more concerned.
Jacki Vause, MD at Peppercom, has just taken on three male interns this year because she wants to encourage more men into the profession. Before that, the UK office had one man and nine women. However, a recent job ad for a senior account manager failed to attract any male applicants. She believes having more men on board provides balance. 'If you're communicating to men and women it helps to have men and women in your workforce,' she argues.
It is a view shared by many of her peers. One agency bucking the trend is Republic PR. Half the workforce is male, but only because it made a concerted effort a few years ago to try and redress the balance. The result, believes associate director Julia Crawford is that Republic can better service its range of clients. 'Not only do clients appreciate having a different perspective, it also makes for a better working environment. The mix is invaluable at brainstorming sessions for example, as men will come up with very different ideas.'
It is difficult to nail down the extent of gender imbalance when the level of female bias is not constant - for instance, men are well represented in financial, investor relations and public affairs. They are also prevalent in the more senior roles such as in-house director of corporate communications.
But, on a broader level, there is evidence to suggest men are turned off by the day-to-day workings off the communications industry.
Peppercom intern Rebecca Folmar has written a thesis on the male/female divide in PR in the US, and discovered that women are attracted to PR because they feel it lets them concentrate on relationship building, interpersonal communication, and creativity. They also believe it provides better career opportunities and the flexibility to have a family and a job. Men's reasons for not entering PR include the lack of guaranteed status, financial rewards, or recognition for their work, along with a perceived feminine stigma and fewer role models. The latter point certainly reverberates in the UK.
'Many men quit because they feel that the everyday stuff - making the tea and photocopying - is beneath them,' says Martin Bostock, MD at Nelson Bostock. About 30 per cent of his business is male, and he says he would like it closer to 50:50.
Zoe Arden, departing MD at Golin Harris adds: 'In a consultancy where you want clients to feel special, the almost geisha-like quality that staff need is something males find harder to achieve.'
The other extreme of thought - it sounds very politically incorrect, but has latterly been proved by science - is that the female bias is simply because women are better at PR. BBC1's recent The Secrets of the Sexes, showed scientific proof that women are better communicators than men.
Maybe women have exploited this by making PR 'their' career. Indeed, one PR boss tells of agencies specifically recruiting for women only.
'Women are recognised at being better at relationship building, which is crucial for dealing both with clients and the media,' argues Gillian Rankin, business psychologist at ML Consulting.
'They have empathy with people and are more interested in interactive dialogue - listening as well as speaking.'
'We need people who can juggle tasks, keep calm and influence people - and women are good at that,' says Jo Marino, who heads up Waterstones' in-house PR team along with two female colleagues. She adds: 'I'd like to employ more men but then I've never come across a situation where I've thought we really needed a man.'
Neil Boom is MD of financial PR agency Gresham, the only man in the company and says he can empathise with this. He'd also like to employ more men, but admits he prefers working with women who, he says, are more cautious, less likely to speak off the cuff and more willing to take advice. 'Young men can be over-confident, with a slightly gung-ho approach,' he believes.
For this reason, Claire Tuffin, director at headhunters VMA Group, actually believes more women are needed in the more male-dominated areas of PR: 'Financial PR needs to attract more women,' she says. 'In investor relations and financial services, many of these professionals have moved from City jobs, such as analysis and broking, while others come from the army or financial journalism, and sometimes lack the same communications skills.'
Traditional male confidence can mean that when men do go into PR they end up in many of the more senior roles, but it is also sometimes because their female counterparts drop out in their early 30s to have kids, and either don't come back or take a more day-to-day role. Anne Gregory, vice president of the CIPR , says bluntly: 'That is when some of the less able men get promoted - just because they are there.'
The PRCA simply says it is important to focus on getting higher quality PROs on board - regardless of gender - and is working to spread the word about the industry at higher education institutes rather than promote it specifically to men or women only.
And while the benefits of a more even split between the sexes remain debatable, what is certain is that a more holistic approach to recruitment will be the only way to narrow the PR gender divide in the future.