The PR world must include more than "people persons"

In her blog, Dushka Zapata, an EVP at Ogilvy Public Relations, recently - and boldly - announced that she's an introvert.

In her blog, Dushka Zapata, an EVP at Ogilvy Public Relations, recently - and boldly - announced that she's an introvert. She's told me since that several other PR pros have confided to her that they also are introverts, but that they don't want to admit this publicly for fear of being misjudged.

Despite considerable progress, the misconception that PR is the exclusive domain of "people persons" endures stubbornly. Countless executives have expressed their frustration about hearing job candidates say they would be good at PR because they "like dealing with people." Yet, after doing a scan of PR job postings, there is still a decided bent toward traditional "people skills." I've even heard - especially for junior positions - that it can be detrimental to admit a preference for working independently.

It's dangerous for managers to assume this means someone isn't a team player. Rather, people who work independently might need to collect their thoughts and ideas privately before going into a group brainstorm, as opposed to those whose minds churn best in the company of others. These simply are different styles.

Often, the best agencies are staffed with people with various approaches to solving problems. This shines best, for example, when an outgoing team member excels at the new business pitch, using research from a more reserved team member. This equilibrium is threatened if people feel compelled to put on the mask of the social butterfly because they believe it will advance their career or, simply, fit the idea of what they envision a good PR person to be.

Moreover, agency leaders cannot take a fair inventory of their workforce's capabilities if some people downplay their skills. And, of course, firms do their best work when they use each person's strengths to compensate for others' shortcomings.

PR executives have told me they want to diversify their hiring pool. This is smart. The industry should do its best to attract techies, designers, video producers, bloggers, analysts, and so on. But to do this, it has to change the dominant idea that PR is for "people persons" into PR is for intelligent, savvy, driven people.

I hope more people come forth to help change this. After all, one thing I've heard repeatedly is the need for PR people to be good listeners. This is an area where reserved people do very well, typically. And in the spirit of this column, I'll say some PR people (although they don't want to admit it, again, for fear of being misjudged) genuinely prefer to be the one talking. And that's OK - that's the point. The industry needs all kinds.

Aarti Shah is the senior reporter at PRWeek. She can be contacted at aarti.shah@prweek.com.

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