Inside the Minds of female PR Practitoners

“If you want something said ask a man, if you want something done ask a women”- Margaret Thatcher.

It’s hard to be a woman, not saying that it isn’t equally as hard to be a man. But women have started the race late and because of that women are poorly misrepresented in the general workforce. The public relation industry has developed to an industry made up of women. 71% of PR practitioners are women and approximately 30% of PR firms have a women CEO.

In honour of women’s month, I decided to interview two established female PR practitioners. We discussed their success, how they discovered public relations, obstacles women face in the PR workforce, and words of wisdom to female millennials thinking about a career in public relations.

The first successful female PR practitioner is Sarah Pinch. Mrs. Pinch has a long history in PR and communications. She started out as a journalist and TV director for the BBC then took a career shift when she set up a PR team at Christina Aid. She has gain experience from working for international and regional charities, and social enterprises and private sector companies. In 2015 she received the highest honor and became president of Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Now she has decided to become part of 30% and started Pinch.Point communications.

The second successful female PR practitioner is Christina Zaba. Mrs. Zaba has a clear passion for communication, graduating from the University of Leeds with a masters in English language and medieval literature. Her love for words steered her into becoming a freelance journalist for the Guardian. Then she decided to enter politics and became the campaign and communications director for Bristol Mayor Ltd. She currently has a seat on the NUJ’s National Executive Council and is also a founder of Quayside Media and Zaba Communications.  

“Thank you for answering my question, and getting back to me as soon as possible. My first question is do you remember what inspired you to become a PR practitioner?”

 Sarah Pinch: In my heart, I am a campaigner, or some would say a frustrated politician.  My inspiration to campaign and stand up for inequality and injustice comes from my maternal grandmother.  I joined PR from the BBC, where I had worked for ten years.  In 2000, I got my first PR role at Christian Aid.  I was an active supporter of a campaign, called Drop the Debt, which Christian Aid has started and so I wanted to join the organisation. 

 Christina Zaba: I was a freelance journalist supplying to a range of national, regional and local newspapers. After a few years, various groups and people started approaching me to write stories about their campaigns or groups for the papers where they’d seen my work.  Eventually, I was headhunted by a major PR agency and the rest is history! 

 “What is an obstacle female PR practitioners face in the workforce?”

 Sarah Pinch: Inequality of pay, in some cases bullying, in many cases everyday sexism

 Christina Zaba: The lack of general support for family life and the high cost of childcare, along with people’s expectation that women should run, clean, manage and cook in homes themselves and be responsible for children for 20 years. Unless Britain becomes more like Sweden or France, and gives major maternity and paternity subsidies and leave, and free childcare support, and unless people really are equal partners, it’s not going to change.

If PR is an industry mostly made up of women, why is it then ONLY  30% of PR agencies run by women. And how can we even the playing field?

 Sarah Pinch: Oh if only there was a single magic bullet.  We have to continue to raise the profile of those women who run agencies differently, Unity is a great example of an agency run by a man and a woman; Stripe PR is a fantastic example of a female led agency with flexibility inbuilt into their DNA.

We must mentor the next generation of female leaders and make sure they know there are possibilities (whether they chose to take them must be their own decision) but I do not want any young woman to say she didn’t know she could; when she can. 

Christina Zaba: We can even the playing field by teaching women to aim for high earnings. Too many women still feel they’re not entitled, and they need to apologise. As an agency owner, I haven’t seen any problem with being a woman – it’s no harder for a woman to set up a business, buy services and manage clients than for a man. 

If you could go back in time what would you tell your younger self first starting out in PR?

Sarah Pinch: To be less self-critical and say thank you.I had the best start in my career and I am tremendously grateful to everyone who supported me. I was also given some advice about the importance of lipstick.  It’s my confidence boost of choice, a good lipstick and a great shoe.

Christina Zaba: I would tell her to keep going and not give up

What has been the highlight so far in your PR career?

 Sarah Pinch: Serving as President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.  I have also been very proud to work on some reputation management challenges that have changed company policies and triggered a real change in companies and organisational culture.

 Christina Zaba: The highlight was the campaign we ran to persuade the people of Bristol to change to an elected mayor system in 2012. It was a pro bono campaign, but very exciting, and we were the only campaign in the UK out of 12 that achieved a yes vote to a mayor.

  Do you have any advice for female millennials thinking about a career in PR?

Sarah Pinch: Believe in yourself.  Get a mentor.  Ask for advice.  Experience something different every day – read a newspaper you’d never pick up, retune your radio to BBC Radio 4, subscribe to a blog you don’t agree with; expand your mind and develop your own unique voice.

 Christina Zaba: I think jump in, get going, and make sure your online presence is sensible! More and more we’re going to stand or fall by who we are on the internet. I also think it’s time PRs started taking data and measurement more seriously. so a little expertise in technology and technological thinking is something millennials, digital natives, are very well placed to acquire and I think that will be valued by future employers. Women especially could do with moving into this area, as it’s currently dominated by men. 

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