TV One’s “Born Again Virgin” is one of the network’s newest and hottest acquisitions. The show resonates with the targeted African American female demographic as it focuses on three main characters. Jenna (Danielle Nicolet), the lead character, is a self-employed blogger. Jenna’s two best friends are Kelly (Meagan Holder) and Tara (Eva Marcille). Tara is the stereotypical pretty girl that doubles as an actress-model and Kelly is a public relations practitioner working for a prestigious entertainment firm. In Wednesday night’s episode, Kelly’s mother addresses her disappointment int her daughter’s career. She compares Kelly to her older sister who is a doctor and mocks Kelly’s superficial red carpets, photo shoots and constant emails and texts. “Your sister has a real job. She is a doctor, which is what you were supposed to do,” her mother scoffs.
Watching the scene was all to real for me as I’m almost 100 percent sure my mother has no idea what my job entails or why I chose the field of public relations. The job description in itself is intangible and seems to ebb and flow with each genre, each organization and each client. Most PR practitioners can’t give you a short list of what it is they do, the most common response is, “We do everything.” Any and everything to ensure the client is number one, happy; and number two, their image is consistent with their goals. One of the most mysterious careers surprisingly manages to be one of the most stressful. Ragan’s PR Daily lists PR as the sixth most stressful job in America, beating out police officer, journalists and corporate executives. What exactly are public relations professionals doing that’s more stressful than a police officer?
Tight deadlines and scrutiny in the public eye are two of the reasons Ragan’s listed as culprits for the elevated stress levels in the profession, but as an active practitioner for nearly two decades, I’m not sure if those two are the biggest contributors. With an ever-evolving discipline that carries the myth of magically derived results, public relations professionals endure unrealistic demands offset by very little investment.
Today’s culture that idolizes the profession as the key a world filled with glitz and glamour, yet the gatekeepers salaries are don’t correlate to the lifestyles on the other side of that velvet rope. “You are hosting clients on red carpet high-profile events and their retainers are often late or they try to get discounts. Long story short, you can’t afford to be red carpet savvy at every event with your clients. There is no possible way,” says Tim Yates with Overdrive PR based in New York. “Public relations is the first thing I will attempt to barter in-kind services for,” says Ray Daniels, VP of A&R for Epic Records and CEO of RAYDAR a thriving management firm based in Atlanta. “I know there is flexibility when it comes to public relations.”
With the ever-fledgling salaries juxtaposed against the threat of digital media and viral marketing making the discipline almost obsolete; there is still another threat to the discipline perhaps more damaging. An influx of newcomers to the discipline seeking the Instagram followers and social calendar that goes hand in hand with the title “publicist” have become the new representation of the discipline. Many of the newcomers have little public relations background and instead have migrated from various other genres of entertainment with the assumption that public relations has the least business prerequisites and promises the closest relationship with celebrity. The millennial approach to public relations is much more social media savvy and is far from the dowdy PR figures clothed in black acting as guarded shadows for celebrities. The newer generation brand themselves as the keys to the world of fame and fortune and are making strides in perpetuating the fabulous social lives associated with the profession. Still this has done little to change the dwindling salary rate and/or provide a tangible definition to the discipline.
If I were to respond to Kelly’s mother on “Born Again Virgin” I would attempt to explain how affecting popular culture can be a worthwhile task. I would also bring up situations where I’ve been able to assist in cause marketing efforts that wouldn’t have been impactful without the voice and influence of celebrity. I would shy away from magazine shoots and instead reference campaigns such as the Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty and Carol’s Daughter’s most recent #Bornandmade campaign. While neither of those campaigns focused solely on celebrity, they leaned heavily on great public relations strategy, and in my humble opinion, helped to offset some of the internal damage done by manipulated cover spreads and photo shopped ad campaigns some of us spend hours perfecting.
Much like me, the character Tara took a minute to ponder her mother’s words but later found her justification in the career she stresses over yet can’t turn her back on. I’ve decided that although I often envy my college friends who cure diseases for a living or even solve company payroll issues, I was created to manipulate and shape public opinion. Though I spend half of my time explaining to potential clients what exactly my responsibilities are, and I know many will try to reduce my monthly rate, I wouldn’t give up my profession or the high blood pressure pills that accompany it for the world. Perhaps Kelly will attempt to explain her career again later in the season. If so, I’ll be rooting for her.