Is everyone in PR wearing the same dress?

by Shannon Paul on July 25, 2008

Earlier this week, two of my coworkers showed up to the office wearing the same exact dress, and of course they were both horrified. However, this got me thinking about how important recognizing individuality in ourselves and others is to our ability to feel seen and heard, as well as our ability to see and hear others.

There is a reason showing up in the exact same outfit is a fear that most women have — it invites scrutiny and side-by-side comparison — someone always feels like the other person looked better wearing the same exact outfit. While it may feel safer to some extent in a larger group dressed alike, it gets much harder to get noticed.

Let’s imagine 20 people show up to a party wearing the same dress. Okay, how about 75? Because that’s the number of PR people AdWeek‘s Digital Editor, Brian Morrissey, estimates exist for every journalist in his recent interview in the Bad Pitch Blog and from the way he describes it, a bad pitch being like porn — you know it when you see it, most of us are still showing up in journalists’ overstuffed inboxes clamoring around in the same dress.

If you didn’t catch that estimate, know this: According to Brian, the best thing PR people can do is “Recognize that media organizations are shrinking while PR is growing.”

If you’re in PR and that estimate doesn’t strike fear in your heart, well, it should. What that means is that the old, impersonal methods of pitching won’t work anymore. Sure, people with 20 years experience that have already established rapport will still be able to pick up the phone (with reduced success), but anyone new to the field will not.

Despite his reputed dislike for PR people, Brian succinctly summarizes a major challenge that many seem unwilling to face, “What it means for PR people is your job is harder. The best PR people I know simply connect me with people that can help me. They know what I cover, what I don’t and how their clients do and do not fit. That means a lot more work before the email and the call. It also means knowing when to get out of the way.”

What that means for most of us is that we have to take off the same old dress and establish new ways to connect and get people talking about our clients and the organizations we represent. There simply isn’t enough ink to go around, or even enough Web real estate for mainstream digital publications because there aren’t as many people typing these days on their dime. Period.

Now what? What are you doing to be creative? How do you propose to get people talking about your company/organization? What still works? What are you doing to set yourself apart?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

July 25, 2008 Fuzzytek 1

What I’d like to suggest is that if you have this fear … go check around with the local fashion designers. Many of them could use the business far more than the typical mall chain fashion store. You’ll be encouraging the growth of industry within your city and quite often form a business friend and style consultant.

If you are going to be PR for someone through how you dress, do it for a purpose. Then if you end up in the ‘same’ outfit you’ll know it is for a good cause that you are both contributing to and it forms unity around it.

If you are lost as to how to find a local designer – contact me. As a local fashion photographer I work with many and have designed the websites of a few. I run a fashion showcase project called Abandoned In Detroit which will be holding fashion shows this fall/winter.


July 25, 2008 Steve Lubetkin 2

There is a herd mentality in many industries, PR included. I will never forget when I was helping Joel Strasser organize Mega-Tech Day and we had John Verity from BusinessWeek on the panel. John told the PR people in attendance that he had a garbage dumpster outside his office into which he threw 30-35 Fed-Ex packages containing new product announcement press kits from tech PR people EVERY DAY because they hadn’t bothered to check if BusinessWeek even RAN new product announcements (they didn’t at the time).

John Dvorak used to say that the really cool and interesting stuff happening at COMDEX (remember COMDEX?) was at the cheap tables on the outer ring of the room, not at the big flashy IBM, Dell, and Microsoft booths. That’s the key to being effective at PR. When everyone is moving to the left side of the ship where the coffee is being served, you move your client and the media covering them to the other side. Less crowded, more time to chat. Get the idea?


July 25, 2008 Genaro 3

thanks very much for this article. It’s helping understand what’s really happening in our business


July 25, 2008 leahmcchesney 4

Great post Shannon awesome food for thought, I love the dress analogy! Love your blog!


July 25, 2008 Cee Bee 5

It took awhile before I realized you weren’t talking about an office in Puerto Rico.


July 25, 2008 Dawn 6

Is your metaphor so deep that I’m missing it?

Steve, Good feedback.

Shannon, Great title and very good points. I have been slowly integrating some PR clients into my freelance writing work, but my gut was telling me to get out of that field before I even started. I put another check in the ‘stick with freelance writing’ column after reading this post. ;) Not that I’m afraid of hard work or creative thinking, but why branch out into a glutted field when I already have something I love and am good at?


July 25, 2008 Ami 7

As someone who has worked in the book publicity for a long time, I can attest that you are right on the money with this, Shannon.

It’s especially interesting to me because I see this as a time for unprecedented access to consumers (at least in the book business)–as long as you take that time to research and ensure that you meet them on their level.

To take your metaphor a step further, there’s room for prom dresses AND reworked thrift store duds right now in book pr. It’s pretty exciting.


July 25, 2008 Tanveer Naseer 8

A very interesting post, Shannon. And I must say I enjoyed the same-dress analogy. It’s not only very effective in demonstrating the issue here, but for many men like myself, it now makes this concern women have less of a head-scratcher.

You got two birds down with this entry. Nicely done.


July 25, 2008 Shannon Nelson 9

You are right on the money. And as someone who is in PR and then also writes her own blogs, I can’t tell you how often those “same dresses” make their way into my inbox wanting a write up on my blog. It makes me want to email them back and ask for a little more umph to be put into the pitch…and it also makes me much more aware when I am pitching editors for my PR job.

Not sure this is really a “tactic” for being individual, but I just approach people with the same confidence and outgoing personality that I display to the whole world on my blogs. Just being myself has been the most effective way to “pitch.”


July 26, 2008 shannonpaul 10

Thanks everyone for the great feedback!

Steve – Thank you for the great examples that show exactly what I was talking about. It’s so easy to ignore people who are all doing the exact same thing en masse without regard for the people they’re trying to connect with.

Cee Bee – I’m sorry for the confusion- it never occurred to me that PR is also the abbreviation for Puerto Rico. Thanks for the new awareness. :)

Genaro and Leah – So glad you liked the post.

Ami – I love your extension of the metaphor to include prom and thrift-store dresses and I think it extends beyond book PR. The more human we can be, the better chance we have at forming real relationships and humanizing the companies and organizations we represent.

Tanveer – So glad I could help you understand women better *and* some of the challenges facing the PR industry. :)

Shannon – I’m sure it’s a very educational endeavor to be on the receiving end of a pitch and I’m sure it’s also very frustrating at times. You have a great personality and presence — I trust your ability to be genuine will work far better than those trying to stick to messaging at all times and follow strict protocol.


August 5, 2008 jsweets 11

Having worked as a journalist and blogger for many years, I think all PR pros need to at least intern at a publication for a summer. You can tell in the first 3 seconds of an email or phone call who has no clue how the pub biz works. You can also tell who has never once checked out the reporter’s publication or beat before rolling into the pitch.

I also agree with the point made about PR folks being connectors. All the great ones I’ve kept in touch with over the years are those who seem to know everyone and can help with information, even when it’s not directly related to a client.


{ 2 trackbacks }

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