This past July, publicist Ali Wise was accused of hacking into the voicemail system of her ex’s new girlfriend. Despite these charges and the unflattering light that is now cast on her personal and professional life (her employer Dolce & Gabbana gave her the boot), Wise has refused to step out of the spotlight.
Just last week, she was spotted at multiple fashion events in Manhattan and while she’s keeping mum about the legalities of the situation, it hasn’t stopped her from commenting on her possible jump into reality TV. More recently, this trained public relations professional hired her own publicist—none other than Matthew Hiltzik, who has previously done damage control for
Jane Friedman, Don Imus and Annie Leibovitz.
And so we have another front page (or maybe Page 6) story about a publicist gone bad, adding fuel to the fire created by shows like MTV’s PoweR Girls, which depicts young, beautiful women in big cities planning parties, hanging out with celebrities and creating a ‘buzz’ by any means possible.
Even more absurd, a recent story line on Gossip Girl depicted Manhattanite Serena Van Der Woodsen receiving a job offer to work for a publicist based solely on her ability to attract paparazzi—with complete disregard for the fact that her character has no college education and zip work experience.
Could this be why PR is still considered a “dirty word” in some circles, or why the general consensus is that “publicity” is managed by the cliché “PR girls” featured on these programs? I’ve experienced it personally, even in casual conversation with friends and acquaintances. Based on the questions I’ve been asked about my job (“Which celebrities do you represent?” “Don’t you just spin the truth?” “Do you get free stuff from companies like [enter luxury brand]?”). I’m certain that many people outside of the field think of PR as party planning and creating buzz at any cost—a no-brain job for cute girls who photograph well.
I got into the field of public relations for many reasons. I love writing and thinking creatively. I enjoy problem solving and working with teams. I have a vested interest in connecting relevant groups of people, particularly through social media. But these elements of the job are often lost amidst the image and reputation exuded by episodes of PoweR Girls and headlines featuring the likes of Ms. Wise.
So what can we do? We need to be proactive advocates for our profession. We need to value and recognize those female innovators in our field who embody out-of-the-box thinking, sound business ethics and determination to move the profession forward. Only then can we shake the “PR girls” image.
[Note: This post by Lauren Begley originally appeared on RepMan on 12.2.09]