Ray Bans, Chinos and Hollister: How PR became a Caricature

Think of an advertising professional. What do you see? A Mad Men style 1960s Don Draper in a posh suit? Probably.

Now think of a PR professional? What do you see? A twenty something girl, Ray Bans, Gucci handbag, the very latest fashion accessories. Essentially a background character from Ugly Betty.

In a previous blog post I tried to argue that this image was nothing more than a TV enforced stereotype; prompted by shows such as Ab Fab and The Work Experience. Well, unfortunately, I was wrong. This isn’t some non-existent stereotype but rather an accurate and depressing truth about the PR industry.

Since 2009, when I first started my foray into Public Relations, I have met literally hundreds of these PR caricatures. From digital ‘gurus’ in horn-rimmed glasses, through to self-proclaimed ‘events experts’ in Hollister and Chinos. (Whatever they are?)

These individuals, the sorts to enter PR, actually love consumerism. And not even from an external viewpoint of slightly cynical anthropology. They live and breathe it. They are consumers.

If anything, it’s me who’s the oddball. When I let slip that I’m not interested in name brands or fashion my fellow practitioners appear genuinely confused. They ask questions like “how can you work in PR and not be interested in brands?” My response? Just because I’m not interested in brands doesn’t mean I’m not interested in branding. Personally I’m fascinated by how intangible (non-existent) qualities such as style, inclusion and love can be imbued upon completely unrelated items in an attempt to dupe consumers into paying more for identical goods.

You’re judging your own personal worth, your value as a human being, on not only the standards of others, but on the PR sponsored, advertising enforced opinions of massive corporations

A pair of Ray Ban sunglasses is most likely produced by the same Chinese labour as a pair of sunglasses from ASDA. Both are made from a small amount of cheap plastic and probably cost less than ten pence to produce. One however, is worth ten times the price purely because it’s associated with intangible (non-existent) images of style and success.

What really scares me though, is that the very PR professionals who attempt to trick us into making these associations, are wandering around wearing Ray Bans as well! We’ve been duped by our own duplicity!

I simply cannot understand how individuals can work within the field of PR while retaining such a strong loyalty towards consumerism. We spend every day using half-truths, dodgy research, and paid for opinions to convince the world that what they’re buying will actually improve their lives. We know it won’t. If it did our work would be a damn sight easier and our pay would be a damn sight lower. Yet despite this fact, the vast majority of PR professionals continue to believe their own bullshit. They just can’t seem to make the mental link between their on-going manipulation of the masses and their intrinsic role within that very group.

So what can we do to try and fix this? Well for starters a bit of scepticism goes a long way. When you go to buy a name brand product, just think to yourself: is this product, in both tangible quality and functionality, better than its low-cost alternative? If the answer is no then you’ve probably been drawn in by intangible branding and duplicitous PR.

But then maybe it’s not just about tangible qualities. By buying Ray Bans over their identical alternative, people will know that you’re part of the cool crowd, that you’re an affluent individual, someone at one with the latest trends. If you ever find yourself thinking those kinds of thoughts, just try to remember this; you’re judging your own personal worth, your value as a human being, on not only the standards of others, but on the PR sponsored, advertising enforced opinions of massive corporations.

Still, don’t your Ray Bans look awesome?!

Alex Warren
Alex Warren
Miserablist, whiskey-drinker, and general tinpot shambles. Alex Warren has a weary pessimism for all things media, politics and tech.