“Oh, you work in PR? You must be like, super loud then”
“You can’t be quiet and work in communications!”
“If you’re not confident, you’re not going to make it”
“But isn’t your job just like, socialising?”
“You’re an introvert? You won’t do well here…”
I’m not usually one to succumb to the agg of stereotypes, but this one really grinds my gears. I don’t know if it’s the work of Sex and the City, or perhaps the way in which some agency-offenders sugar coat everything they do on social media. But PR isn’t all about insta-boomerangs, liquid lunches and attending super-duper events. Us exec’s aren’t all married to our jobs and tequila. Oh, and it’s certainly not about being the loudest one in the room all the while either.
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These assumptions are (well, were) actually incredibly hurtful to me. And this is something that’s very personal to me as God knows I’ve struggled with some serious confidence issues in the past. On my first university assignment (which was a spoken one) I broke down in tears and went home in the mindset that I wouldn’t be returning, that the course wasn’t for me and that I’d never do well in it.
And I ran into similar self-doubts when I started getting some experience in PR too, as most of the people I was working alongside were incredibly assured and positive, and in the meantime I’d sit quietly tapping away on my computer, all the while thinking inside that “this industry is never going to be for me and I’m never going to do well in it.”
Nevertheless, here I am a few years later with a first class BA degree in business & public relations under my belt and working as an executive for a great agency. Proving to myself, and to the industry in general, that you don’t need to have the Samantha Jones personality to succeed. You can be an introvert in PR and still do well.
I did anyway, and I’m certain that you can too.
I challenge you to type in ‘Samantha Jones’ personality’ into google. My two favourite descriptions I found were that that her interests are: drinking and sex, and that her relationship status is: perennially single. And isn’t that just great 😐?
Now I’m definitely not saying there’s anything wrong with that lifestyle at all, I’ll forever encourage anyone – especially women – to make their own choices and walk their own paths, and they should never be judged for it. My issue lies in the fact that this stereotype is forcibly pinned to ‘PR people’ pretty much everywhere they go. And that’s where I have a problem. Because you don’t have to be this whimsical, overly-loud icon who lives a lavish lifestyle to work in Public Relations. In fact, I find this entirely offensive to the industry; as people who work in PR are incredibly intelligent, some of the smartest minds in this country in fact, and therefore this horrible cliché can be totally detrimental. It dumbs us down.
Plus, it can seriously put people off ever wanting to explore a career in communications, it very nearly did for me, and it still makes me feel unsure of myself to this day.
So you’re an introvert …What does it mean?
Let’s quash some more stereotypes while I’m here. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I lock myself up in my room and spend the most part of my free time reading alone with a bunch of cats or anything. Far from it really. Being introverted, to me anyway, simply means that I’d much rather come into work and get my head down most days. I don’t feel the need to be excessively loud and fanciful, and I’m not really an overly-confident person. As much as I’d need to be, I’d say, and no more than that.
But that doesn’t mean that I shun social interaction and live a sheltered life. I have a great group of friends and a lovely boyfriend whom I spend a lot of my free time with. I enjoy going to networking events and my colleagues know that once I start talking you can seldom shut me up. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I’m scared to talk to people or anything like that. It simply means that I enjoy my own company, work well on my own (teamwork is great too, though) and see more value in getting my head down and getting on with things as opposed to being O.T.T and noisy about every move I make.
But perhaps it’s unfair of me to say some of these things, as there’s nothing wrong with being naturally extroverted either. In fact, I’m very jealous of people who can hold their own, and who can really put themselves out there. If that’s your personality then that’s so great, and you should really revel in it. As it does help to be confident when you work in PR, especially if you’re on the consumer-facing side of things and do a lot of events management.
What I’m trying to say is that while it’s great to be this way, it’s not essential. Despite common misconceptions, you can live life on the quieter end of the spectrum and still work in Public Relations, shame on anyone who lets you think otherwise.
But surely you can’t be introverted in PR…
Sure you can! And I can prove it…
In fact, I was overwhelmed with the number of lovely people that actually got in touch to share their views with me on this when I called for opinions on Twitter. Some really big names in the PR and Comms industry actually jumped straight on the tweet to declare that yes, they too are an introvert.
And Claire Forbes, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at Ofwat even had this to share, which I found really interesting too. Just because somebody is a bit of a wallflower, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given the time and space to speak to their team.
I’d also recommend reading some of these great articles if you’re interested in introverts in the comms industry…
- The introverted revolution in internal comms, by Helen Deverell for All Things IC
- Bringing diversity to the thought of IC, by Helen Deverell for CIPR Inside
- Why introverts make great publicists, by Nicole Laoutaris for PR Daily
I don’t know where this idea that it’s injurious to your career if you’re not confident and upbeat came from. But we need to get rid of it, quickly.
I’m getting there…
But all of this, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t want to strive to be a more confident person either. One day, I’d love to manage my own team but of course, I’d need to seriously work on my verbal communications skills for that to happen first.
However, I’ve come a huge way from being the sobbing girl walking down Redmond’s Hill absolutely filled to the brim with self-doubts that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Come the end of my university days I wasn’t afraid of giving presentations, I even found the voice to create and market a really successful (and ahem, award-winning) product with my team (#TB to the Student Scran cookbook days) as part of a university project. And, I was also able to give talks to prospective students and their parents about why the business and PR course at LJMU was a great one to enrol on, that for me was a massive milestone. I always made a point of mentioning in my speeches the hermit I used to be, and how my lecturers and the PR course in general managed to coax out a personality within me that I never even knew I had.
And I’ve advanced so far in my job too. I’m not afraid to say that when I started interning at Tecmark I was totally shy and was worried I’d never fit in with their workplace culture. It took me a year, but I’m now a PR executive there and any of my colleagues will tell you that it’s getting me to shut up that’s the problem now. I’m much more open to talking in meetings and getting my point out there. Tell that to 18-year-old me and I’d have laughed at you. “Nope, I’ll never be that person”, I’d have thought.
Little did I know that 21-year-old me would be a girl I’d have not even recognised several years ago.
I’ve a long way to go, but I’m getting there. And in the meanwhile, It’s great to focus on my career knowing that some of the most successful people in this industry are introverts… That I don’t need to be a Samantha Jones to make it. There’s comfort in that knowledge, and I’m genuinely thankful for it ’cause had I have carried on thinking that I couldn’t work in Public Relations with my diffident personality, then who knows where I’d be today.
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