Pre-Tech Boom: PR Coming into Its Own during the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties

Your office sits in one of the best locations in New York City. Seated around the conference room table are half a dozen men and a few women. The men chatter about the latest campaign with their client, and their secretaries scribble ferociously on their steno pads.

You listen too. You could be the secretary. OR, you could be the men assessing the latest PR campaign.

While the presence of the women is seen, their voices are silent. Almost similar to an earlier episode of the long running serial Mad Men, women sit on the margins of all major PR activities, even though they may have something valuable to contribute.

Today, you rarely have these office arrangements.

What changed?

Beginning in the 70s and lasting into the 90s, public relations experienced the feminization of the industry. The sixties began the social revolution that opened doors for previously marginalized groups, which included women and minority groups. By 1970, public relations saw the influx of women.

Another major reason women entered the field in large numbers was primarily through Affirmative Action policies, which mandated employers provide access to these types of employment opportunities. As a result, women benefited greatly from policies that promoted hiring women in PR.

The upside for women entering the field is….

Public relations would seem a natural fit for a profession that relies heavily on social networking. In fact, this characteristic was one of the reasons that the profession, in and of itself, was attractive to women. Because women appeared to be more social and gregarious and the functions of this job required establishing and maintaining relationships, it only seemed natural women would be perfect for public relations.

Essentially, women became the public relations for public relations. All at once, you can imagine offices filled with beautiful, well-coiffed women at work socializing and building relationships for the purpose of selling products and services to the public, but more importantly, for making money. Whether at high-class cocktail parties chatting about industry going-ons or in the boardroom, women made public relations sexy!

…and the downside?

Beyond the glamour and the glitz conjured up around working in this profession, this influx of women into this profession had a few negatives as well.

One of the most obvious is the phenomenon coined the velvet ghetto. This trend occurs when there is an overwhelming influx of women into a profession. For example, teaching and nursing are also professions that have experienced this phenomenon.

So, what’s wrong with women ruling the world, or at least an industry?

You would naturally think it a great idea for a gender, previously relegated to subordinate positions in another era, to have reception to such coveted positions. But really, this trend of one gender taking over an industry has other unintended effects industry-wide.

Unfairly or not, there is a direct effect on the wages of PR professionals. During this time, while men still made up the PR landscape, women occupied more than half of the positions. Unfairly or not, women across all industries typically earned less than men. As a result, as more women entered the industry, the salaries fell as well.

Also, while these decades saw the admittance of women into this industry, PR was typical of other white collar jobs during this time. Women could gain admittance, but at some point, they would reach the glass ceiling, only occupying low-level positions but rarely becoming managers.

Other reasons….

Forget the unequal pay scale and the inability to ascend the corporate ladder for a second, and imagine yourself sitting across name-any-famous athlete. You have your apple martini in hand, and he has the trendiest drink of his choice. You are sitting comfortably on the bar stool listening to the jock talk about his professional goals while thinking about how comfortable your feet feel in those way-too-expensive Manolo Blahniks.

You have the pricey apartment in the trendiest part of town. Your friends make up some of the most sought after social connections in the city…AND you make an ungodly amount of money! You are definitely living the fabulous life Samantha Jones of Sex and the City fame, the quintessential representation of PR professionalism in the latter part of the nineties.

The problem?

The problem with this picture is the reality of a PR professional’s job. Yes, there are a lot of meetings and networking opportunities, but most professionals find themselves behind a computer working during the day not strolling through some of New York City’s most fashionable districts.

Public relations is hard work that requires the professional and the organization spend a lot of time in prep work for the purpose of developing relationships with their publics.

Another downside to this job is, because women introduced a certain amount of glamour to the job, job expectations of this industry might be slightly elevated and definitely unrealistic. You could purchase the Manolo Blahniks but you might not be able to pay your rent on the pay!

Okay, why is this all important, at least to you?

Unless, you are a PR practitioner, this information is probably not important. However, because you are reading this article it is, at minimum, of interest.

Really, while this era already has passed, it impacts you in terms of building the foundations of what is modern-day public relations.


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