Looks matter. This is not just true in PR, but in any industry. Gordon Patzer, author of Looks: Why They Matter More Than Your Ever Imagined, believes that physical attractiveness decides who gets selected for nearly all positions and functions in nearly all industries. Patzer explains: “Across the board, good-looking individuals are more likely to advance beyond a job interview and once hired are more likely to earn more, and more likely to be promoted than those less handsome or less beautiful.” Patzer claims that PR is an industry where looks are particularly important. “The most visible industries and most visible jobs are the most sensitive or most influenced by good looks and not-so-good looks. PR certainly stands out as an industry obsessed with appearances that align with higher and lower physical attractiveness. And, this is true whether the PR position is a job function seen or not seen by the public, although concerns about appearances do increase as the job’s public visibility increases.”
Although it might not seem fair that looks get you places, Patzer says it is understandable as PR people are communicators and attractive communicators do better: “Consider communicator credibility. Not necessarily a conscious awareness by receivers of a message, but the reality is that communicators of higher physical attractiveness are seen as more credible in terms of perceived expertise, trustworthiness and liking and, ultimately, are more persuasive.”
For those of you at the gorgeous end of the spectrum, this is good news, but those less easy on the eye need not despair. One freelance PR consultant who wishes to remain anonymous, has managed to carve out a career, despite, as he puts it, “bearing a disturbing resemblance to the Puzzler in Number Jacks”. However, he says his appearance did go against him more in the music industry: “Having ginger hair and wearing specs did have a particularly adverse effect on my career in the music business. I was told I may have been the best bassist at the auditions, but because I had the sex appeal of a rhino's behind, most bands wouldn't touch me with a barge pole.” This freelancer believes that his looks have been also taken into account in the agency world, but without anyone being open about it: “I have in some previous positions been kept away from clients, but nobody's ever been particularly upfront about why ... ‘ugliness is just soooo not on-brand’.”
Of course, most employers will claim that talent is going to take you further than being attractive. PR may have an image for being full of superficial airheads, but this is somewhat exaggerated. As Pally Kaur, account manager at agency Cherish PR, says "To the outside world PROs have this reputation of being good looking due to TV, public and media perception. But as PROs spend most of their time talking to journalists/clients/contacts, if you don’t have the confidence, personality and the voice, then you just won’t be able to cut it in this industry".
Sally Elms, creative director at Creative Planet and Atkinsons:
"I thought I got a job at one agency because I was talented. Six months later I was told it was because I had the best bottom!"
Nick Bowman, director of The PR Cafe:
"Don't know about being good looking, but I've always looked young – which was a problem when I worked in the corporate world, but a benefit in the creative industry."
Mark Gordon Palmer, writer and freelance journalist:
"It's far more important to be earnest in any industry than good looking. I never get sold on anything if the person selling it to me is more interested in their looks than their slogans. Sex sells, but beauty is boring. Sincerity is the sexiest – and the fairest – mirror of them all."
Carla Greco, creative director AAStudio:
"There's no way I'd be doing my job for such a long time based on looks, and yet I must admit I tend to hire good-looking people ... and have to make a conscious effort to be fair to the ugly ones."
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