Surekha Ragavan
Apr 6, 2022

Where are the women in creative PR roles?

A dearth of women in creative roles can greatly affect communications and narratives being pushed out, according to PR leaders.

L-R, clockwise: K. Sitala Sangkaew, Tianyi Ma, Michelle Hutton, Isobel Kerr-Newell
L-R, clockwise: K. Sitala Sangkaew, Tianyi Ma, Michelle Hutton, Isobel Kerr-Newell

Over the last decade or so, PR agencies are increasingly competing with traditional creative agencies, and this had led to a proliferation of high-level creative talent in PR agencies. But because creative roles are fairly new in PR and there still exists a general scarcity of women talent in creative roles, creative talent in PR agencies very much skews male.

“There is still a lack of women in creative industries in general, especially at the top, and this is probably why we are still not seeing enough young women coming through,” says Tim Green, Edelman’s chief creative officer in APAC. “And it’s as if we are still only communicating half the story.”

He says that the first consequence of being one-sided—especially in a creative pursuit—is trust. Because solutions to problems need to be looked at from all angles, a lack of diverse talent in creative roles can lead to disjointed work that doesn't resonate with audiences.

Green’s colleague, Michelle Hutton, Edelman’s vice chair in APAC, concurs: “There are not enough women in creative PR roles. The ratios are improving, but not fast enough. I do think there is still a perception of longer hours required to work in this craft, which may hold women back, and female candidates are harder to find.”

She adds that if women represent 51% of the population and have 85% of consumer buying power, the industry is in need of better gender representation in teams who are creating ideas to take to market.

Isobel Kerr-Newell, managing director of MSL New Zealand, says there is still much work to do around a greater proportion of women in creative roles.

“Women make or influence the majority of purchasing decisions, so to ensure their perspectives are included in the creative process is ultimately not just the right thing to do morally, it also makes the most commercial sense,” says Kerr-Newell. “The business case for diversity is well-documented in showing that greater diversity leads to better, more creative, sound decisions and what business wouldn’t want that? 


"The very nature of being a creative in the PR industry goes against this deeply ingrained reluctance to overstate our ability and take up too much airtime. Which, incidentally, is exactly what clients pay us to do on their behalf.

"So, my advice to female creatives is always the same.

"No one will ever hand you a gold-embossed invitation to become a successful creative. Make your motto: “Push, push, push.” Push others up, push yourself out of your comfort zone, push for the big accounts, push the client on the work, push for that seat on the panel.

"It doesn’t feel polite, or nice, or modest. But we’re smashing glass ceilings here, and how do you smash a ceiling? You push."

—Ottilie Ratcliffe, partner and creative director, Milk & Honey PR, in her op-ed

K. Sitala Sangkaew, digital creative director at Vero, says that if we don't have creative females working on campaigns, “the work won’t be complete and won’t address the perspectives that come with diverse genders”. She adds that men are not able to understand women as a target audience as deeply as women themselves. 

Sangkaew says that while there certainly should be more women as creative professionals, things are definitely progressing in Thailand—where she is based—with agencies popping up purely serving interests of women.

“Most people in our industry seem to be aware that women are important contributors to the profession, or at least this is my perspective from Thailand,” she says.

In China, meanwhile, a silimar challenge exists where creative PR roles are still new. Tianyi Ma, director of consumer & corporate at Allison+Partners China, says that while women are a major force in China’s PR industry, those in creative roles are few and far between.

“Creative roles are newer in PR, and many in these roles come from ad or creative agencies, where there are more male creatives than females. The hours and responsibilities can also be challenging for those with family priorities,” she says.

The danger of a lack of women in creative PR roles, according to Ma, is that the work that comes out of PR agencies risk being irrelevant to Chinese women.

“Women make up half the target audience for consumer brands, and female creatives possess cautious consideration and a sense of empathy that can enable us to communicate with greater impact,” she says. “We’ve seen instances where brand communications objectified women or delivered values which were counter to the modern Chinese consumer’s beliefs, turning into crisis situations that were damaging to the brands involved.”

To improve the representation of women in creative roles, Edelman’s Hutton says that the women currently in creative roles need to continue to use their voices to encourage other women to follow this career path.

She adds: “At the same time, we must all look in non-traditional places to find these candidates and to nurture them from within our agencies. Ultimately creatives, whatever gender, do well in PR agencies when they are looking for a home that will allow them to make work that is not dependent on traditional paid models, and that is becoming increasingly more attractive.”

Campaign Asia

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