What to wear in PR

In every industry there is a dress code, and this is as true of PR as any other business. As Mike Petrook, director of communications and corporate affairs at professional body The Institute of Customer Service, puts it: “You wouldn’t expect someone to wear a suit if they were a tour guide showing people through a mountain range, but many museum tour guides are seen wearing jackets and ties. The fact is that the dress code in any industry should always reflect professionalism and must always be appropriate.” However, Petrook says it is important not to get to hung up on appearance, as ultimately it’s what you do, not what you wear, that matters: “As long as the appropriate standards are being adhered to, it’s the customer service that includes – and goes beyond – appearance which counts, and which will ensure organisations are able to deliver.”

This doesn’t mean you can throw on any old bit of tat and go to work. In PR it is important to present the right image, as this business is centred on communication, and what you wear speaks volumes. Andy Sommer senior manager, internal communications at software company Zendesk, says you need to reflect your environment: “I believe that what you wear to work as a PR is very much determined by the culture of company you work for. When I was in property and financial services the suit was king. However, in tech it's a much more casual affair with jeans and a shirt being the common attire of choice. I've even been asked specifically not to wear a tie to a tech job interview before!

“You also need to consider the audience you're engaging for the day ahead. There's something a little neurolinguistic with this approach, but you want to ensure you wear something to elicit a particular response. You don't want to stand out in a negative way – you don’t want to be the only person wearing a suit and tie in a room full of open collars and jeans – that's a sure-fire way to alienate yourself. However, if you want to take control of a situation then you need to dress to earn that respect.

“I've heard of agency PROs who have even added the question of what to wear to a pitch when following up on a new business opportunity. For me, it's all about being prepared so you know that whatever you wear, it's appropriate for the day ahead.”

Case studies

What we wear

John Rivett, managing director, consumer at PR firm Bell Pottinger, likes a bit of denim: “I’ve just arrived at Bell Pottinger where you could easily, if you were so inclined, line everyone up and pretty much identify the financial guys, political advisors, digital consultants, etc. They do have a look, but they are all smart and most importantly for me, they all appear comfortable in what they are wearing both in terms of their own self-awareness but also what their clients expect. Succinctly, they wear what is absolutely appropriate for the job and that is what matters.

“Personally, since I worked with Levi Strauss at the start of my career, I’ve more often than not worn jeans to work, but always with a good-quality shirt, jacket and importantly for me, good-quality shoes.”

Independent digital media consultant Paul Sutton is a flowery guy: “Why not use your clothes to help you be a little distinctive? A couple of years back I started wearing flowery shirts, for no other reason than because I liked the designs. But as time went by, I started getting comments on my shirts (good and bad!) from colleagues and from clients and people I met at events. I didn't consciously set out to look different, but it became a talking point and people remembered me because of my (I like to think 'cool') dress sense. So I invested in that 'image' and my shirts have become something of a badge.“

Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR has moved on from suits to smart casual: “When I set up a marketing and PR agency in the late 1990s I thought that wearing a suit and tie was the only way to go. All I had to do was to make sure that I had a supply of freshly ironed shirts, some smart ties and stylish cufflinks, not forgetting a shiny pair of shoes – there was no question of thinking or worrying about what to wear. And in many ways this self-imposed uniform made life easier. Today, things are much more relaxed and you can wear just about anything that you feel comfortable or confident wearing. That said, I do think that if you’re acting in the role as a consultant that you do have to consider what you’re wearing. Suits still have a place in my wardrobe, but they’re a more relaxed cut and I hardly ever wear a tie, but generally it is smart casual trousers paired with a sports jacket.”

Vishal Ladwa, director of new media at agency Three Halves Communications, likes to show his personality, but sometimes appreciates that a suit is best: “For me, it comes down to one thing – wear what you feel confident in. If you feel comfortable in the clothes you wear then you exude confidence in not only the way you present yourself physically, but also the words that come out of your mouth. We do business with people, not robots, and so showing personality and style will only add to your own personal brand. As long as you deliver what you say, the results of what you achieve will speak for themselves rather than the shoes on your feet. Whilst most of them time I come to work smart-casual, meetings are all about a well-fitted, sharp suit.”

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