I went to bed at 2:30am on Friday night and when I got up at 8 go to the Public Relations Society of America New York Chapter‘s PR forum on Saturday, I looked like someone punched me in the face. I brushed my teeth with my eyes closed, got dressed, put in my contacts which made my eyes burn, grabbed a banana and took the M23 cross-town bus to 7th avenue.
I got there twenty minutes early and some attendees were already there. I signed in and stared at the array of breakfast food they had because I was starving. It is never polite to eat like a normal amount of food at these things, so I just had tea but I regretted that decision about an hour later. So I’m drinking my tea in the back corner because people are always paired up at these events and it is hard to break into a group’s conversation, and I see there were a few people doing the same thing, standing there looking like a nobody and reading the packet they gave out at registration. I approach this female nobody and say “So I look a bit foolish not talking to anyone and so do you, so let’s make each other look better.” She took well to this and I started asking her who she was, what she did, where she was from, etc.
Turns out she woke up at 4am and drove in from SUNY Albany (and I was complaining about getting up at 8), had done some PR internships and was very concerned about getting a job. Then the convo took an awkward turn when she didn’t ask me anything and I was pretty much running out of material because I didn’t have much to work with. I gestured that we should go over and sit where the keynote speech was going to be, we go sit down and go back to reading the packets with info about the exhibitors again.
The event was packed out, they even had to add more chairs. Luckily another girl sat down next to me and although the conversation was dry, at least we were talking. I make the observation that the event-goers are predominantly women and all of sudden Ms. I’m not going to ask any questions about you and we’ll just sit here in silence almost yells out and says, “Public Relations is for chicks, anything creative is for chicks. Anything creative men can’t and shouldn’t handle.”
Ok I will give it to the girl that the event was 80% women but I wanted to flip out on her. I guess Edward Bernays wasn’t creative enough for her and the countless other male figures of creativity, whether it be the classics like composers and beyond famous artists/thinkers like Michelangelo, or writers like Kurt Vonnegut and the famed Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown or current musicians like Wynton Marsalis and producer Timbaland. We just hit the 50th anniversary of Alvin Ailey dance theater and we could sit here all day and name creative men in varying fields. Why do women continue to think this way? Women can be creative, they could also be good at math and science and they could also be great politicians. Is it really still believed that women are emotional and that emotion drives their creativity and men are logical and rational and therefore not creative? If so then shove me into a girdle, throw me into a drawing room and send me back to 19th century England. At least I would be around the likes of Dickens and the Brontës instead of Ms. Public Relations is for chicks.
I know I just went on a crazy feminist-sounding rant (at least I put this blog in both the tale and rant category), but it did have to do with media somewhere. The keynote speaker was Shonali Burke, Vice President of Media & Communications for the ASPCA. Originally from India, Shonali wanted to be an actress but moved to the USA when her American husband had to. She became involved in PR via her theater background and was originally working with organizations that dealt with Broadway events, Cirque de Soleil, etc. in San Francisco.
What struck me most about the entire event (other than that girl who prompted me to write basically an entire blog about how upset I was with her comment) was not the exhibitors I spoke to or the people around me, but what Shonali said at the beginning of her speech. “When came here, I didn’t know one other person, except my husband, because I had never been to the States.” She met all her connections through her own efforts, eventually meeting people in DC even when she was still in San Fran. Shonali began her career only twelve years ago and has come so far since, working on cases like the recent Michael Vick situation, all on her own merit and efforts. No college career development services office helping her out, no career books that she read, just her. That is truly inspirational and should give hope to everyone that making it is possible, we just can’t be afraid to work, hard.