Written by Michael Lewis
You probably worked with a public relations (PR) professional who was a woman. Sure, there are some men in the field, but for the most part, the majority are women. Statistics show that women hold anywhere from around 60% to 70% of public relations jobs, depending on the source. It’s known that women mostly dominate public relations roles, but no one has looked into why men are less likely.
In my research with the McNair Research Project, I attempted to answer how men in marketing view public relations and what influences them to choose other related careers. I use this research to help understand what they can do in the future to attract more men into PR programs.
I started as a political science major, but then added on a PR degree to gain more technical skill sets. During my time in political science classes, I did not think much about my place in class. I felt the classrooms were diverse in terms of gender––or, as much as it could be for a mid-western school. Once I added the public relations degree, I became completely aware of the gender gap in classes. Most of the time, I’m one of two males in a class.
I learned that men interested in communications were less likely to go into public relations but practice, instead, other communication-related roles, mostly marketing. The research question led me to ask why men were less likely to study public relations.
Ultimately, there were two research questions created to observe the lack of men in public relations.
What influences men to choose to study marketing over public relations?
How do men perceive public relations in comparison to marketing?
For my research, I interviewed a group of 10 men over five months, five current marketing students and five who were graduates working in the field. Interviews had a qualitative design, meaning they were open-ended questions that allowed each participant to create their context.
Questions asked included:
How do you perceive public relations in terms of gender roles?
Discuss how media and television played a role in your perceptions of public relations and marketing.
How much did income play a role in your decision around your major of study?
Responses were grouped by themes. I then used a process called inductive analysis to organize each key response until I ended up with six total themes. These six themes based on responses were shared most among the respondents.
Theme 1: Public Relations People Deal With the Negative
Participant research showed that eight out of 10 interviewed believe that, in comparison, PR practitioners are more likely to deal with negative aspects of the job. What was fascinating is that men in communications have this narrative that public relations people spend most of their time cleaning up messes for others in the organization. Kyle says, “When I scroll through social media and see a company making some type of public apology or promise, that’s usually the first thing I think of when I think of public relations.” This idea of cleaning up messes and covering for others in the organization does not sound as appealing as the perceived job aspects of marketing
Theme 2: Public Relations & Marketing Speak to Different Genders
What was intriguing is that the participants felt PR fit gender role aspects for women, but did not share the same attitudes towards men in marketing. Although 10 of 10 participants disagreed when asked if they felt marketing was a man’s role, 7 out of 10 of those felt the job role of PR fit women better than men. Brad discussed how he felt women are better at delivering a message, he said, “A message comes off better from women, and I see public messaging fitting with PR. Think of our communication apps like Siri and Alexa. They aren’t making those apps based on a John and Joe voice.”
Theme 3: Little Room for Growth in Public Relations
For these men, greater advancement opportunities give marketing more growth potential than public relations. When asked if they thought they could make as much money in public relations as in marketing, 9 out of 10 participants disagreed. Interestingly, participants, whether they were just starting their undergraduate or working in the field, had the perception that a career in marketing meant good income opportunities.
Theme 4: Marketing Has More Value
Participants discussed the idea that it is easier to show your return on investment in marketing. They believed public relations doesn’t provide the same ability to show value, which they see as crucial to your position in the workplace. Showing the boss, for example, how your actions were able to make a company more profitable is what separates marketing, in their opinion. Danny stated, “I think that the expanding skill sets and more money because you can show your value, are big deciding factors for going into marketing. I just wasn’t seeing that with PR because it’s hard to determine value in what you’re doing.’’
Theme 5: Influenced by Family/Friends/Media
I wanted to see if there was a connection between participants and outside influence in terms of family, friends, and outside media. Research showed that all participants had outside influences that helped push them into studying marketing. James remembered his dad sparking his interest in marketing, stating, “My dad ran a printing press for 35 years, and I kind of got to experience the paper printing and marketing industry.” Those interviewed did not express many family or outside influences when discussing public relations, and several participants did not even know about the field till their undergraduate degrees.
Theme 6: Lack of Educational Awareness in Public Relations
One important thing to note in the research is that all participants were aware that their opinion on PR was pure perceptions. When trying to gauge how high schools prepare students for marketing and public relations jobs, participants agreed that pre undergraduates schooling is more likely to prepare students for careers and jobs in marketing than public relations. Several participants discussed having marketing-related courses and programs like Marketing 101 and DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), where in comparison, no participant could recall anything related to public relations.
Men interested in communications believe they will make more money in marketing than they would in PR because the skill sets of both roles are so similar, the income aspect could explain why men choose marketing. It also seems that men share the false narrative that roles in public relations are limited to crisis communication. What is interesting is that they understand marketing is too broad to put it under gender roles, but don’t have the same knowledge about PR despite the shared skill sets.
Educators must create programs and networks within educational communities. If there are successful programs like “Marketing 101” and DECA at the high school level. In recruiting students, educators should consider offering the same programs and classes. PR professionals must consider using the same resources and strategies that created the biased narrative to create more of a positive representation of public relations roles. If the biases in PR come from film, it could be valuable for the community to invest in correcting those narratives. Past research on women’s interest in public relations showed that there was a heavy influence from movies and television. With the consistent theme of Sex in the City’s, Samantha Stevens became a heavy influence on women’s positive perceptions of public relations in several articles researching the topic.