Who are the most inspirational women in PR in the last 100 years?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that March is the month we celebrate women. Not just on March 8th with International Women’s Day but throughout the month given it’s also Women’s History Month.
Now, I’m a believer we should be celebrating women and their achievements every single day of the year. That said, it would be churlish of me not to take up the opportunity to scribe a few words on inspirational women in PR from the past 100 years simply because it’s March.
Given the focus is on history, I thought I’d begin by raiding the archives for women who have each broken through the glass ceiling, who challenged traditional gender roles at the time and carved out a path for the next generation of women in the PR industry.
I soon discovered however there’s an issue with that approach. Given that PR is a fledgling profession, many of those early pioneers wouldn’t have recognised themselves as “public relations professionals”. They were simply brilliant campaigners who recognised the power of effective communication.
Let’s take Sylvia Pankhurst for example. Not a “PR” but a campaigning English feminist and socialist who was a leading figure in the suffragette movement a century ago and famously stood up for the unrepresented and forgotten – in this case working class women from the East End initially denied the vote.
There are so many of those early pioneers – campaigners and communicators - to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Whether it’s Virginia Woolf and her rallying cry around needing a “room of one’s own” or Marie Stopes who campaigned for better birth control. The list is endless and includes latter day activists such as Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Emma Watson or more recently, Joeli Brearley with her Pregnant than Screwed campaign.
That said the PR Industry does have gamechangers we shouldn’t forget. Not household names granted, but women who pushed our Industry forward. From Betty Hicks, a former President of Women in PR through to Margaret Nally, the first female president of the Chartered Institute of PR in 1976 as well as the countless inspiring women who have since been Chairs of industry body, The PRCA.
And no list would be complete without the inclusion of the eponymous Lynne Franks who made PR itself more famous. She founded Lynne Franks PR in the 1970s which became one of the UK’s most successful fashion PR agencies of its time plus spawned the “Ab Fab” meme – for good or bad.
But what about the women campaigning for a better PR Industry for the future? We all know countless women who have risen to the top of the profession in recent years (hallelujah for that), each demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities at the same time as seeking to challenge established norms.
Indulge me as I choose three who inspire me personally.
Elizabeth Bananuka. Elizabeth is the Founder of BME PR Pros and Blueprinted. She’s brave, outspoken and passionate about promoting racial diversity within PR and communications. Her Blueprinted mark is forcing agency founders to embrace some uncomfortable conversations around representation and our Industry will be all the better because of it.
Nik Govier. Nik is the founder and CEO of Blurred, a multi-award winning agency which regularly and rightly picks up plaudits for being a brilliant place to work. What’s more impressive though is she is vocal about the issues that impact us as women, whether that’s the painful subject of miscarriage at work, or her neuro-diversity journey.
Rachel Bell. Rachel is an entrepreneur and a self-styled “momentum creator”. Not only has she founded and run successful agencies such as Shine, she’s more known for backing amazing talent and helping those in our Industry (including many talented women) start up on their own. She’s been behind a number of the UK’s most exciting agencies from Mischief to John Doe to Wire to the recently launched Heard.
These women – and many more besides them – will be the women shaping PR history in the future.
Article written by Jo Carr, co-founder Hope&Glory and President, Women in PR
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