Women in PR. A Romanian Perspective

Abstract

Recent years have marked an influx of women into the practice of public relations, which generated a number of studies on the role of women in this field. Fitch & Third (2010: 2) noticed that the dominance of women in public relations defines the coding of public relations as “feminine”. The aim of the research is two-fold: to analyse the field of public relations and its defining dimensions, the perspective of women in the PR sector, respectively to identify what means the public relations for women working in this sector. The case study explores the correlation between the basic concept of public relations and the practice of public relations, the basic qualities for a successful career in public relations, trends, challenges and perspectives for the PR sector. As the research method, we have applied the questionnaire-based inquiry in some institutions, organizations and PR agencies from the county of Bacău, Romania. In Romania, we may notice an increasing preference of the female audience for the PR sector. The practice of public relations is an feminine activity because PR is an inciting domain that offers multiple challenges, such as building strategic relationships and spirit of initiative. Maintaining and consolidating relationships with publics should be a priority for public relations practitioners. Responsibility and professionalism should constitute priority lines in (re)configuring public relations.

Keywords: Women in PRconceptpracticechallengesperspectives

Introduction

Some authors believe that the practice of public relations is a women’s activity because

“approximately 70% of PR practitioners in most western nations are women” (Edwards, 2009, p. 161).

In turn, Fitch & Third (2010, p. 2) emphasise the fact that the dominance of women in public relations

defines the coding of public relations as “feminine”. The labellingof the public relations sector as

“feminine” creates, at the moment, a dichotomy between men and women and develops a number of

themes regarding the feminization of the public relations sector, the impact of their professional

activities, the gender inequalities in the field, the challenges for women as PR practitioners.

Based on how women affect public relations, the literature investigates the feminization of the field,

highlighting, for the first time, a major concern: “if women become a majority in public relations, the

practice will be typecast as women's work; it will lose what clout it now has as a management function

and become a second-class occupation” (Bates, 1983, p. 6). The study How European public relations

men and women perceive the impact of their professional activities (Verhoeven and Aarts, 2010, p. 7)

outlines the fact that “male public relations professionals perceive themselves as being taken more

seriously by senior management in their organization than female professionals do. On a 7-point scale,

men scored an average of 5.36 ... while women scored a 4.97”. The surveys revealed that gender

inequalities exist in the public relations sector because while fulfilling roles assigned to them, women

get caught in a “cycle of powerlessness” (Grunig, Toth and Hon, 2001, p. 102).

The literature on the roles of women in the public relations sector emphasises that “the glass ceiling

persists for women in public relations and communications management, despite increasing

feminization of these fields” (Wrigley, 2002, p. 27). Wrigley's study (2002, p. 27), entitled Glass

Ceiling? What Glass Ceiling?A Qualitative Study of How Women View The Glass Ceiling in Public

Relations and Communications Management , shows that although public relations are now dominated

by female employees and practitioners, the attitude towards women in the workplace has not changed,

which accounts for the gender inequalities visible in this field, as a result of the fact that “corporate

cultures can be more limiting for women who want to advance”.

In Romania, we may notice an increasing preference of the female audience for the PR sector. In

recent years, professional training and development in public relations area have recorded enhanced

participation of the audience, particularly for the profile specializations existing at the university level.

These views coincide with those provided by the some scholars that mention the fact that “the

Romanian domain of public relations is undergoing constant development and diversification”, and it

shows an increasing interest in this professional option (Miculescu, 2006, p. 91). The future of public

relations “promises” to become even more feminine if we consider the number of women choosing to

work in this field. This paper analyses the public relations, the correlation between the basic concept of

public relations and the practice, ”the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats”, challenges and

perspectives for the PR sector.

Literature review

One of the main definitions presented by the literature mentions that public relations is the “distinct

managerial function which supports the establishing and maintenance of mutual communication limits,

mutual acceptance and cooperation between an organization and its audience. Public relations involve

problem management, supporting managers in being well-informed regarding public opinion and

respond to the demands of public opinion, define and accentuate the managerial obligations of

anticipating the tendencies of the environment and use research and communication based on ethical

principles as main working tools” (Harlow, 1976, p. 36). According to Cutlip, Center & Broom (2009,

p. 7), “public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial

relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends”. In turn,

Long and Hazelton (1987, pp. 3-13) describe public relations as “a communication function of

management through which the organizations adapt to, alter, or maintain their environment for the

purpose of achieving organizational goals”. The same view is accredited by Grunig and Hunt (1984,

p. 7-8) who argue that public relations is the “management of communication between an organization

and its publics”.

As can be observed, these definitions highlight the managerial function of public relations, within

which the process of communication becomes a reference point. The focus lies particularly on the

efficient communication between an organization and its audience, the mutually advantageous relations

established between the two partners that reach a certain level of cooperation, mutual trust and respect.

The main role belongs to public relations as “the function responsible for establishing and maintaining

relationships with the public” (Grunig, Toth and Hon, 2001). Public relations is a connection bridge

between the organization and the public that enables the success of this partnership by means of a two-

way communication. Public relations support the “crystallization of the public opinion about a certain

organization in a certain direction” (Bernays, 2003, p. 26). In this case, the public relations practitioner

assumes double responsibility, both in relation to the organization and the audiences, by building and

maintaining efficient relationships that may generate good collaboration and mutual respect. The

system of public relations has the role of establishing durable connections based on truth and mutual

trust, both inside as well as outside the system, with the public opinion (Petrovici, 2011a, p. 35).

Therefore, this system implies developing two subsystems, one responsible with building connections

inside the organization with a view to ensuring a beneficial internal climate, the other one responsible

with building durable connections with the external environment, which includes all the other

institutions or organizations, as well as public opinion (Rus, 2002, p. 58). Within this process, the

practice of public relations appears as the art and social science of analysing trends, anticipating

consequences, counselling the leaders of the organization and implementing the designed action

programmes that will serve both the interests of the organization and those of the public (Gordon,

1997, p. 59). The practice of public relations focuses particularly on reputation, aiming at gaining the

public’s trust and support and at influencing the latter’s opinion and behaviour (Newsom, VanSlyke

Turk, Kruckeberg, 2003, p. 18). In this context, public relations is a strategic form of communication

that aims at gaining the public’s understanding and acceptance, building beneficial relationships

between the organization and the public, “particularly in terms of shaping reputation and information

communication” (Curtin and Gaither, 2008, p. 19). In this case, reputation turns into a key concept.

The modern definition of public relations (2012) for today's practice is provided by the Public

Relations Society of America (PRSA) which emphasizes that “public relations is a strategic

communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their

publics”. According to the PRSA (www.prsa.org), “this definition focuses on the basic concept of

public relations – as a communication process, one that is strategic in nature and emphasizing mutually

beneficial relationships. Process is preferable to management function, which can evoke ideas of

control and top-down, one-way communications. Relationships relates to public relations' role in

helping to bring together organizations and individuals with their key stakeholders. Publics is

preferable to stakeholders , as the former relates to the very public nature of public relations, whereas

stakeholders has connotations of publicly-traded companies”. As can be seen, public relations rely on

the reference terms of organization and audiences, between which there is a two-way communication

process. This process implies building mutually advantageous relationships based on trust and respect,

respectively maintaining sustainable connections between an organization and its audiences that are a

real challenge for public relations practitioners. Adopting a professional conduct becomes, in this case,

a reference point that involves compliance with the professional ethics code, honesty and transparency

in PR practices, not the “public’s” interest.

Another dimension of professionalism is represented by “considering professional standards before

the financial rewards promised by an employer or client; public relations practitioners are often only

the paid voice of an organization or client and mercenaries who do not seem to hold any personal

standard or belief” (Wilcox, cited in Miculescu, 2006, p. 203). Such situations result in low

appreciation from the public and a status of public relations that is not honourable. The challenges for

public relations practitioners are “to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in relationships, for

example, respect, transparency, honesty, open lines of communication; nurturing of shared values and

other basic principles are key to communication that builds strong organization-publics relationships”

(Hutton, 2007, p. 56)

Material & Methods

The aim of this study is to examine the correlation between the basic concept of public relations and

the practice of public relations, the basic qualities for a successful career in public relations, challenges

and perspectives for the PR sector by identifying the following research questions:

RQ1: What is the relationship between the concept of public relations and the practice of public

relations?

RQ2: What are the basic qualities for a successful career in public relations?

RQ3: What are the trends, challenges and perspectives for the PR sector?

As a research method, we have applied a survey questionnaire i n some institutions and organizations

from Bacău, Romania, respectively PR agencies. The survey was conducted through a web-based

questionnaireduring February-April 2016; An email soliciting participation in the online survey was

sent to public relations practitioners, women working in the public sector, in communication and public

relations departments as well as in the private sector, in PR agencies. After excluding incomplete

questionnaires, there were 80 usable responses: 75 from public sector organizations, and 5 from private

PR agencies. Also, most of the respondents have ages around 35 and have less than 10 years of

experience in the domain. Despite our best attempts, we could not obtain a higher number of responses.

However, we hope that the results obtained may constitute new directions of action for future research.

Women in PR. A Romanian perspective

In order to identify the thought particularities existing at the level of a feminine public, we have

applied a questionnaire to a representative group of 80 persons – women working in the PR sector, who

were kind enough to respond to our request. The questionnaire comprises a set of 16 questions on the

domain of public relations and its defining dimensions. The purpose of applying this questionnaire was

not to conduct a rigorous sociological inquiry with statistically valid results, but to analyse the way in

which public relations are perceived and practiced, the basic qualities for a successful career in public

relations, trends and perspectives for the PR sector. When asked what public relations are in their

personal opinion, most of the respondents (62%) answered that PR represent an inciting domain, under

constant development, whereas 38% of them believe that public relations are a professional challenge

requiring constant support and team spirit. The orientation of the feminine public towards the PR sector

is a consequence of the rising trend of public relations in recent years that continues to show at the top

of rankings. The arguments supporting the choice of this sector of activity highlight the fact that public

relations are regarded, by 50% of the respondents, as a motivating profession, whereas 40% of the

respondents claim to have opted for this domain out of passion and only 10% out of curiosity.

According to the respondents, the basic “ingredients” for developing this domain imply a generous

dose of creativity (34%), intelligence (34%) and emotion (32%).

The basic qualities required to practice public relations are, first and foremost, communication and

relating skills (34%), good professional training and constant improvement (28%), professional

standards (20%), creative potential (18%). In order to be successful, public relations practitioners

should demonstrate corresponding training in the field (34%), communication competences (33%) and,

last but not least, adopt ethical conduct in their activity (33%). The secret of personal success lies in

knowledge of communication techniques (50%), thorough professional training (30%) and strategic

thought (20%). When asked about the “weak points” of the PR sector, most of the respondents (85%)

mentioned the gap between the basic concept and the way public relations are practiced nowadays,

compared to 15% who gave no answer to this question. The arguments brought in this respect are

related to how public relations activities are organized (60%), non-compliance with ethical standards

(25%), principles and values assumed (15%). The greatest difficulties they have come across in this

sector was poor communication and lack of understanding at the management level (56%), “lack of

great ideas” (34%), the small budget allotted to events organization (10%). Regarding opportunities,

54% of the respondents mentioned the building and maintaining of the relation with the related

audiences, whereas 46% of these pointed to initiative spirit. According to the respondents, the greatest

risks related to public relations are incorrect practices (48%), lack of efficient communication strategies

(30%), incoherent politics (22%). The greatest challenges in the PR sector are enhancing reputation and credibility (40%), crisis

communication (40%) and management of the relations with the press (20%). Regarding the evolution

of public relations for the coming years, most of the answers assign a relevant role to responsibility and

professionalism in (re)configuring them. Most of the respondents (60%) believe that the social

responsibility of the organization towards its audiences should represent a reference point in the PR

policy, whereas 40% of them plead for adopting professional behaviour. According to the statistical

data recorded, most persons (75%) have ages around 35, whereas 25% are over 50. In terms of the

educational level, 90% of these mentioned university studies, whereas 15% of them mentioned post-

university studies.

Results and Discussions

Public relations is an inciting domain, undergoing constant development, a professional challenge

reclaiming sustained efforts and team spirit. The orientation of the feminine public towards the PR

sector is a consequence of the rising trend of public relations in recent years that continues to show on

top of rankings. In 2013, Money Magazine/CNN ranked public relations “as one of the top 50 jobs

because of the field's relatively high pay, personal satisfaction, benefit to society and flexibility”. In

2014, U.S. News & World Report ranked public relations “as the best creative job and one of the top

100 careers in America”. For the PR industry, U.S. Department of Labour has projected a 12 percent

growth rate between 2012 and 2022. In the USA, studies on the “feminization of PR” have shown that

the growing percentage of women in this sector of activity reveals that gender inequalities exist in the

public relations sector, which leads to lower wages as well as the depreciation of the professional status

as a result of men withdrawing from this sphere of activity (Mogel, 2002; Verhoeven and Aarts, 2010;

Choi and Hon, 2002; Daymon and Demetrious, 2013; Rotman, 2001). In Romania, the PR sector

records similar tendencies regarding the growing participation rate of women in this domain. However,

the increasing percentage of women in the PR industry does not lead, in any case, to the devaluation of

the profession but, on the contrary: “numerous companies have high demands regarding the quality of

their PR female employees, and within PR agencies, women asserted themselves, long ago, as

consultants for most demanding clients” (Achelis, 2009).

The major argument supporting this choice is a motivating job that is based on the “ingredients” of

creativity, intelligence and emotion. In fact, recent research highlights the fact that creativity,

intelligence and emotion form a triad, whose elements grow in time, interact and interconnect (Ries &

Ries, 2005; Averill, 2011; Mencarelli, 1976). The standards that public relations practitioners have to

constantly meet exercise a certain pressure upon them, meaning that these have to improve their

communication and relating skills, and professional training on a regular basis. Wilcox, Cameron, Ault,

Agee (2003, p. 84-86) believe that public relations practitioners should own several basic personal

attributes, for example the ability to communicate efficiently, solve problems, creativity, identifying

new and efficient solutions for each problem. Successful practitioners need basic qualities, such as

“response to tension, individual initiative, curiosity and learning, energy, drive and ambition, objective

thinking, flexible attitude, service to others, friendliness, versatility, lack of self-consciousness”

(Cantor, cited in Lordan, 2003, p. 24). One of the “weaknesses” of the PR sector is the gap between the basic concept and how public

relations are practiced nowadays. Unfortunately, the current tendencies reveal a “devaluation” of public

relations, practising them only for providing the public with information or draw the attention of the

press to the organization, and not as a function of management. The quality of public relations is often

evaluated quantitatively, in relation to the number of press communications, brochures or press articles

and less in terms of problem solving skills (Miculescu, 2006, p. 189-190). Such skills only highlight

the absence of a strategic approach to public relations, which reveals a disconnection between

perception and reality. Building, maintaining and consolidating relationships with publics should be a

priority for public relations practitioners. Public relations practitioners should be highly aware of the

(micro) demographic features of the audience in order to adjust their message to the particularities of

each category of audience. Michael Bland (cited in Green, 2006, p. 6-7) believes that “the most

startling flops in public relations stem from a failure to recognize that other people will inevitably see

the world differently from you; from major companies failing to understand the mentality of activists

opposing them, or managers in a middle of a crisis not taking into account what people really want to

hear rather than what just suits them. These all originate in an insularity of thinking, and operating

within just one world view”.

Credibility and reputation are the most important assets of an organization. What you do, say and

what others say about you become reference points. For Stancu Şerb (1997, p. 7), public relations may

be described like a set of means used by companies and institutions to create and maintain a climate of

confidence and sympathy among the publics. For any organization, reputation management should be a

priority of agenda settings (Chiciudean, David, 2011; Dowling, 2002; Dospinescu, 2011; Cismaru,

2012; Waddington and Earl, 2012). In managing reputation, it is important to cultivate and maintain

different reputations in different groups, planning the communication process, as part of corporate

communication (Carroll, van Riel, 1995; Varey, 1998; van Riel and Fombrum, 2007). As Cornelissen

(2008) outlines “corporate communication is a management function that offers a framework for the

effective coordination of all internal and external communication with the overall purpose of

establishing and maintaining favourable reputations with stakeholder groups upon which the

organization is dependent”. In fact, reference studies have revealed a close connection between

corporate reputation and CEO reputation. The Burson-Marsteller Report, entitled “CEO Reputation

Study” (2003), suggests that “CEO reputation is a major factor in determining company reputation”;

58% of the sample said that “the CEO's reputation” influences the organization’s reputation to a great

extent, 48% of the overall reputation of a company being attributable to the reputation of its CEO.

A significant challenge is crisis communication (Libaert, 2008; Fearn-Banks, 1996; Coman, 2009;

McLoughlin, 1996). A crisis enhances the interest of the press and public, drawing attention to the

organization. Optimists believe that a crisis may be controlled, pessimists believe that once the crisis

installed, the organization has already lost control and the consequences are negative. To prevent such

a situation, public relations practitioners should be responsive to problems that may, at one point,

evolve into a crisis situation. Crisis management relies on two basic principles: the early identification

of possible risks and organized reaction to manage the crisis situation efficiently (Petrovici, 2011b, p.

100). In fact, the research conducted in this sense highlights the relevance of the concept of crisis

management that, according to specialists, should represent the constant concern of an organization for

identifying the most efficient strategies (Jaques, 2007; Iacob, Cismaru, 2005; Regester and Larkin,

2003; Coombs, 2001; Booth, 1993). The successful management of a crisis situation implies equal

shares of honesty and transparency in the relation with the press, mutual trust and respect.

Responsibility and professionalism should constitute priority lines in (re)configuring public relations.

The responsibilities of practitioners within organizations are to develop, communicate and integrate the

knowledge and professionalism into public relations practice (Wright & VanSlyke Tirk, 2007, p. 571).

Conclusions

In this article, we have analysed the domain of public relations, its defining dimensions, the basic

qualities required by a successful career in public relations, challenges and perspectives for the PR

sector, starting a feminist standpoint – women working in the PR sector. In Romania, we may notice an

increasing preference of the female audience for the PR sector; the future of public relations

“promises” to become even more feminine if we consider the number of women choosing to work in

this field. The practice of public relations is an feminine activity because PR is an inciting domain that

offers multiple challenges, such as building strategic relationships and spirit of initiative. In this field,

the women have a head start: good instincts, intelligence, empathy and creativity. The same view is

supported by Donato (1990, p. 129) who believes that „women are attracted to public relations because

the field offers good opportunities”. The study underlines that “women have better instincts and a

different sensitivity to the communication needs of people and institutions and are therefore better

suited for the practice” (Bates, 1983, p. 31), and “one reason for this ready acceptance of women is that

public relations is a highly intuitive business which is a talent inborn in little girls” (Smith, 1968,

p. 28).

One of the “weaknesses” of the PR sector is the gap between the basic concept and how public

relations are practiced nowadays. Current trends indicate the fact that, in most cases, public relations

are practiced only for informing the public, draw the attention of the press to the organization, and not

as a management function that requires building problem solving skills. This aspect highlights the

absence of a strategic approach to public relations particularly in the management of crisis

communication, unfortunately, reflected by numerous cases of inefficient management of crisis

situations.

The basic qualities for a successful career in public relations imply skills in communication and

problem solving, creativity, the identification of efficient solutions to problems. For today's practice,

the public relations practitioner must be “ analytical , capable of identifying and dissecting issues. Part

of the challenge of being a successful practitioner is to recognize problems before they happen and

once they happen. Recognizing a problem is the first step. Being able to think strategically and

tactically is the second” (Heath and Coombs, 2006, p. 166).

Responsibility and professionalism should constitute priority lines in (re)configuring public

relations. Public relations involve a two-fold responsibility: responsibility towards the public, adapting

behaviours with the expectances of public, respectively responsibility towards organizations, the

correct presentation of the values assumed, transparency on policies. Professionalism derives from the

increasingly higher transparency we should apply to what we do, the responsibility we should take for

our actions (Bernays, 1947, Miculescu, 2006).

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Publication Date

18 December 2019

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978-1-80296-014-3

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Future Academy

Volume

15

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1st Edition

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1-1115

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Communication, communication studies, social interaction, moral purpose of education, social purpose of education

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Petrovici, A. (2019). Women in PR. A Romanian Perspective. In A. Sandu, T. Ciulei, & A. Frunza (Eds.), Logos Universality Mentality Education Novelty, vol 15. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 756-765). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2016.09.96