Thursday, July 9, 2009

Are Hotties Destined to be High Performers?

From time-to-time I am asked what brought me to public relations as a profession.

It would be great if I could muster up a tale of interest in communications strategy, creative writing, critical thinking or even the dynamic of decision-making. Truth is, my career path began based on a simple focus: girls.

Let me explain. As an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Maryland one of my priorities was to establish connections with my fellow undergraduates, preferably the female ones.

When it came time to select a major I dutifully researched the programs with the highest percentage of female enrollment. I wasn’t particularly fond of math which ruled out psychology. At the time, I did not care much for children so education was a no go. That left…you got it…journalism with a focus on PR.

I’d like to think I have matured some in the two decades plus since my collegiate days. Fifteen years as an entrepreneur…two kids…a mortgage…and a romantic interest now in only one girl, my wife.

Yet, I have been thinking a bit about my inauspicious professional beginnings after reading Claire Cain Miller’s accounting in the New York Times of the changing nature of PR representation of emerging growth technology companies.

I will leave the debate of the appropriate role of public relations professionals to other bloggers and pundits. My preference is to focus on a subtle undertone in the article: are people more successful in the field of public relations because of their physical appearance?

Gotta say “yes” on this one because of the basic human nature to gravitate towards and more openly engage with people we find attractive. This begins at an early age as the more beautiful children are granted a higher level of attention by their parents, teachers and peers.

This adoration manifests itself throughout life, ultimately producing a professional who is confident in their presence, capabilities and intellect. Consider Brooke Hammerling of Brew PR and the star of Miller’s New York Times article. She certainly strikes me as someone who hasn’t had to deal with too many rejections in life.

Now, I do recognize I am making a broad generalization. There are attractive people in public relations who fail to rise above mediocrity. And, of course, there are those who are more modest in appearances who achieve tremendous success.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), I am fortunate to work with a highly skilled, talented, creative and confident senior team. They also happen to be quite an attractive lot. I wonder if that’s merely a coincidence.


Frank Strong, MA, MBA said...

It's an interesting topic Marc, and I admire your willingness to blog on what can be a controversial topic. I have two somewhat opposing experiences.

As a man, there has certainly been times throughout my career when I wondered if there was something akin to a reverse glass ceiling in PR. Men and women do -- generally -- have very different communications styles and that has presented me with challenges in managing both up and down the chain of command.

On the other hand, particularly when I was a young account executive, I also felt at times I had a certain advantage also. As a case in point, 75% of the staff at the agencies I've worked had has been women -- so I stand out immediately given my gender. Since those agencies focused on the B2B technology sector, our clients generally tend to be men. It was my experience that those clients would sometimes confide in me in ways they might not with my peers.

Deborah Tannen, a professor at Georgetown has written substantially on the topic of gender in the workplace. She wrote a book I read many years ago called, "Talking 9 to 5" and has some fascinating case studies -- I'd highly recommend this book for anyone interested in studying the topic objectively. It's a quick read.

Marc Hausman said...

Great to hear from you, Frank. And thanks for the comment.

You raise an interesting point about a male client sharing information with you that they may not necessarily have confided in a female agency colleague. I've had similar experiences over the years.

Is it right? Probably not. Yet, I suspect comparable situations have come up with a female VP, Marketing simply being more comfortable handling an issue with another woman.

Loretta Rankin said...

In most cases, physical attractiveness (however that is defined by the person doing the looking) is tied into "likeability" and likeability is one of the keys to building a business relationship.

I've seen "end of the spectrum" attractiveness back fire with members of the same gender especially. A male customer may respond favorably to an extremely attractive woman, but another woman may respond negatively, especially if physical attributes are being flaunted - i.e. short skirts, low cut blouses, etc. I remember once being in my doctor's office and watching a fashion model looking female pharmaceautical rep in an extremely short, low cut dress, walking around the waiting room putting out tissue boxes with a well known logo of a medication used to treat ED. I know that I rolled by eyes at the approach, but whether my male doctor was swayed positively...I have no idea.

I've also seen very good looking men who received positive feedback from female prospects by using a combination of sound sales pitches, charisma, along with their looks, but the same man, gets no where with a male prospect. After which I heard the male prospect say, "Who does that pretty boy think he is?" Interesting.

Anonymous said...

I found this post very interesting. I would say no, hotties are absolutely not designed to be high performers. For the past 15 years, I served as editor of two national trade magazines, and I watched as the PR reps grew younger and more attractive. The trend started to take kick into high gear during the PR frenzy of the era of the late 90s, when there seemed to unlimited budgets for wining, dining, and schmoozing.

However, both the male and female editors in our magazine publishing group noticed a corresponding decline in competence or genuine helpfulness compared to the type of support we had grown accustomed to. Some of my colleagues referred to the new breed of PR people as PR bimbos and "himbos" (good-looking males). As with any profession, some were good; some were clueless.

Ih the long run, though, we didn't care about whether someone looked good or not. Once our editorial staffs started to get cut at the same time we were being bombarded with PR, when we needed help with something, we really wanted help! Those who could provide it earned our gratitude.

More often than not, the best PR people tended to be those who had more experience and general common sense than looks.

Chris Parente said...

Marc -- good post on a non-PC topic. When I was with and traveling to many shows prior to "correction" in 2000, I used to joke that you could tell the better funded companies by how attractive their PR staffs were.

More seriously, I agree with Frank's rec of Tannen's books. I got a lot out of "You Just Don't Understand."

And finally, my that IS an attractive exec team at Strategic! ;-)

Glenn Boyet said...

Marc: Very interesting topic that has been long on my mind. I think in the late 90s it was clear that PR firms felt an advantage with attractive women, especially at AE level. One of my former agencies definitely subscribed to this and when I went out for dinner one night with the five (all women) staff of mine, I got some mighty interesting looks.

I think (and hope) these days of the "Perky PR gal" are over. PR continues to need a seat at the C-suite and we can only do that by not only showing the bottom line results, but a sense of maturity that the "looks" issue implies just the opposite.

Marc Hausman said...

@Glenn - thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yeah...the late 1990s were an interesting time in the world of technology PR.

The argument I've presented in this blog post is that physical appearance factors into performance, in terms of self-confidence, as well as how others perceive us.

Alessia said...

At least at the beginning, well, yes, good looking people are very much helped by their physical appearance. My personal experience shows relations are easier and more immediate even when you would like to start a new job.

The best professionals are not necessarily beautiful, but if you are, your carreer is faster and better in the PR industry.
Maybe it's also a question of approach and feelings: if you feel good people perceive it, and if you communicate positive feelings, people will like to gather your conversation or your company at a party /meeting /event..
and then the relation is built and the work is mostly done.