“PR! I PR things! People. Places. Concepts. Lulu!” So says Eddy in Ab Fab. But what’s the reality of being a PR and how does industry reality match up to fiction? Vix Leyton gives us the lowdown.
Female PR icons as portrayed by our media: How many can you think of? GO!
Depending on your age, your go-to might be ‘try-sexual’ sex-cat Samantha Jones of Sex and the City, or Bridget Jones fannying around with press releases in a short skirt.
Brits will probably land on Patsy and Eddy, who drunkenly tottered through the 1990s giving PR a good-bad name. Twenty-six years after they first burst on to the small screen, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie looks destined to be another tale of hard drinking media luvvies living outside the real world. Is it really a glimpse behind the PR curtain?
When people say PR is glamorous, I laugh. But I can see why people think that. Glance at my carefully curated social profile – nice food and business travel – and on the surface it is a very sparkly existence indeed. But as per the old adage, all that glitters…
The jet-set life is gonna kill you
Bright lights of international working dim somewhat when you are, through company frugality, on an EasyJet flight at brutal o’clock in the morning with, if you are lucky, just the one stag party. Like fatigued, world-weary rock stars, I can also tell you that one hotel room very much looks like any other. Although I have established a matrix of rating to rival Trip Advisor (hotel holy grail = hairdryer with a button you don’t have to keep your finger on/phone dock/Wi-Fi).
“You might be in a gorgeous dress front of house being the concierge of the night, or you might be in a polo shirt, up a ladder because the person who was supposed to decorate the room didn’t turn up and 100 delegates are about to advance on your launch party.”
I do consider myself lucky to travel with my job, and it looks absolutely brilliant on Instagram but, to give an example, this week I went on a daytrip to Paris to attend one 90-minute meeting in an office that looked like every other office. Five hours on the Eurostar, Paris through the window as I shuttled directly from station to office, then back again. The highlight: I had a really nice nap in the Eurotunnel when my phone didn’t work so no one could reach me.
Raise your glass
Possibly the biggest fallacy: the drunk PR on a boozy press lunch. Lunches do happen. And sometimes they’re boozy. Enjoyment factor, however, is up for debate. Strike it lucky and you might make a new friend, but, like all blind dates – which is what these meetings are akin to – this isn’t always the case.
Imagine having to constantly ring busy strangers and ask them out. And, unlike with a date, when they do come out, even if it has gone terribly, you cannot let on. Odds are you must, by necessity, call them again. And again.
Unlike drinking with mates, you can’t switch off from the job. Waking up the next day with the horrors because you overshared after a night out is infinitely worse when you weren’t among friends, but with a journalist who now knows you get wiry hairs on your big toe. The line is thin and blurred between bonding/relationship building and being accidentally terrible at your job.
There ain’t no scene in the VIP for me
‘Jollies’ aside, reputation management is not really a glitzy business, and it’s not 9 to 5. The clock ticks always: from looking for a signal up a mountain in Budapest to having my friend threaten to throw my phone into the sea on her hen do.
Reputation is a house of cards: one gust of wind can blow away years of PR work for your product/brand/superstar and that knowledge drives you to check your email pathologically… (Bought anything from Ratner’s jeweller lately? No? Google that and find out why.) It also drives you home to your laptop in the middle of nights out, and, occasionally, has you dragging your senior managers from their nights out.
The realities of what we do aren’t always that glamorous either. If you’re working on a big, glitzy event, you’re doing exactly that – ‘working it’. You might be in a gorgeous dress front of house making sure people get in the right seat, managing egos, being the concierge of the night, or you might be in a polo shirt, up a ladder because the person who was supposed to decorate the room didn’t turn up and 100 delegates are about to advance on your launch party.
Timehop threw up a pretty good example of this the other day for me, when I was tasked with taking a photographer to get sexy shots of plastic draining pipes on a Redrow housing estate. Did I know what I was looking for? No. Did my impractical leopard print wellies ever recover? Also no.
Showering your friends with perks
You simply cannot do this. The perks of the job are typically enjoyed solo. Budgets are tight and the hospitality kitty worked hard, which sadly does not extend to showing your mates a good time in a hot new restaurant.
Does PR need a PR job? Some of the cleverest people I know work behind the scenes for big brands, not only helping them get coverage, but helping inform decisions that are right by the customers. Sometimes seen as unflatteringly on par with a doctor’s receptionist gatekeeper (conversations about monkeys and organ grinders), PRs might just secretly be the person in the room who knows the most. The biggest misconception of the job might be that it’s easy. It’s not – but I wouldn’t change a single thing.
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Vix is a financial PR and ginabler who lives and works in East London. As a result she long ago lost sight of whether riding a unicycle while wearing a monocle is par for the course on a normal day.