'The special attention - and career prospects - ended when I told him I had a new boyfriend'

A low point in my career was being warned before an evening event that a client I was hosting was "a bit handsy".

The industry has not had its #MeToo moment yet, but it desperately needs it, argues this senior PR agency practitioner
The industry has not had its #MeToo moment yet, but it desperately needs it, argues this senior PR agency practitioner

This wasn’t accompanied with advice or reassurances; it was just a ‘funny’ fact that I was likely to have unwelcome groping coming my way.

There certainly used to be a perception that being a woman in PR was about being amenable and charming, rather than smart or talented.

A "PR girl" - in and of itself is insulting; like all you are is moderately pretty, possibly a bit ditzy, and that’s your job.

We now like to speak of strategy, reputation, purpose, but the rot is still there. Situations like the above are seemingly not rare.

'I felt like he was a predator': Exclusive sexual harassment survey lifts the lid on abuse in PR industry

Upon leaving a previous agency I suggested to the CEO that he addressed the open secret; that a senior member of staff would cherry-pick young women and work with them closely on accounts that rarely involved many - if any - other people, but certainly did involve secret drinks after hours in secluded bars no-one else went to and, in my case, overtly sexual WhatsApp messages late at night, hands on thighs, eyes all over you and attempted kisses... in other cases, full-blown affairs.

In return, the women tended to get better projects, promotions, and general favoured treatment.

For me, the special attention (and career prospects) ended when I told him I had a new boyfriend. There had been an industry event, after which the entire agency decamped to a local bar.

It was late and he was drunk. He cornered me to have a "wee word". Leaning into me, whispering in my ear and breathing all over my neck he pressed for details of my private (read 'love') life.

In return, he was offering me details of his - which I firmly made clear I didn’t want (I was work friends with his latest girl and didn’t want to believe she was being pressured by him, too).

The CEO is a man I hugely respect but when he said that, because of the Weinstein thing, he now thought he ought to do something, I was angry and disgusted.

A senior PR agency practitioner

Within days I was no longer being considered for the next big project.

He barely ever spoke to me again, ignored me in the corridor and argued against my promotion in the next management meeting (according to another director who was present).

When I later requested a raise, he suggested I look for another job.

A few months after my exit interview, the CEO contacted me to ask me to be the whistle-blower for an investigation.

Instead of admitting the company knowingly fostered an environment in which behaviour like this was tacitly sanctioned, he wanted me to do it - as if I had a problem, not the agency.

The CEO is a man I hugely respect, but when he said that, because of the Weinstein thing, he now thought he ought to do something, I was angry and disgusted.

Having consulted an employment lawyer I said there was no reason I had to publicly speak out (I didn’t believe I’d find it easy today get another job if I did, as selfish as that is) and asked that he find another way to uncover the abuse of power.

They did then have an official anonymous investigation and the man left, albeit with his reputation intact.

It is drummed into you that you’re not the important thing, the clients are.

This man brought in huge amounts of money, so no-one cared how he behaved.

We haven’t had our #MeToo moment, but desperately need it. Maybe the greater focus on equality will make a difference.

I hope no young woman ever gets sent out to look after a dirty old man at a press dinner again, but I’m not holding my breath.

A senior PR agency practitioner

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in