Sexism And Sexual Abuse – My Guilt As A Consumer PR

With everything that has been occurring over the past months following the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and suchlike, I have given a lot of thought as to my own conduct. I would like to think that my behavior towards women has, for the most part, been acceptable, though I’m not naïve enough to think that over my 47 years I haven’t said or done things that were not as they should have been. Any man who thinks they are perfect where things of this nature are concerned is either in denial or trying to justify the unacceptable.

My main, for want of a better word, “guilt” stems from my professional life, and I’m not talking about getting women up to hotel rooms or inappropriate touching etc. My questionable behaviour took place between 1996 and circa 2005, when various forms of consumer PR campaigns found a guaranteed way to gain media coverage for many companies and their brands, and not necessarily those aimed solely at the male marketplace.

This method was what I termed at the time “tits and bits”. Want to get some coverage for a new brand? – tits and bits; find a way to use a female celebrity to front a campaign? – tits and bits; campaign not working and we needed a “save”? – tits and bits.

It was the heyday of tabloids, lads’ mags, sexy PR photo-calls for the paparazzi and made-up sex surveys etc. that guaranteed newspaper, magazine, radio and TV coverage.

My guilt: I was one of those who instigated, manipulated and drove this method that, let’s face it, was based upon objectifying women in any and every way so long as it helped sell the product I was working on behalf of.

Over the years I worked with most page-three girls you could name, female celebrities whose fame at that point in time relied as much on their looks as their talent (some things haven’t changed…) and naïve young women, many of whom had just turned 18, who believed their path to fame and fortune was through glamour photoshoots, and dressing and behaving provocatively at various PR events that they normally wouldn’t have gained access to.

Those not in the business at the time might well have believed that these young women were earning a decent income from doing this – well, I have to tell you that most of the unknowns or newcomers earned on average a couple of hundred pounds a day, and if you think that’s poor then I will tell you that on quite a few occasions I worked around the glamour model agencies and their 50% cut, to pay as little as £50. Tits and bits sold and I made the most of it because it was simple and cheap. I won’t name the PR companies nor the brands because there is no need, most consumer PRs and brands would be on that list in some way or form.

I could tell you that all genders in the industry were using this method at that point in time and that would be completely true but, looking back, I have no doubt that many of the women I worked with felt uncomfortable to say the least with what was going on, but knew there was no other option than to go along with it because, if they had spoken out, they would have been ignored or ridiculed.

The justification I guess I could use is that the method was incredibly successful and I – at that time – didn’t see any harm in it. Looking back, of course, that simply says more about my ignorance and denial than anything else. Though saying this probably won’t make me the most popular person in my industry, I now believe that the methods I and others used during that time poured vast amounts of fuel on the fire of sexism and sexual abuse. The way I helped to successfully sell a company’s product, using women in various forms of undress and directed behavior, reinforced the idea that it was ok for men to view women as objects, because in truth we used them as no more than performing mannequin as means of selling products such as washing powder, chocolate bars and beer.

Post lads’ mags etc. these extreme methods changed to a point. I wouldn’t suggest it to any client and hope that my creative thought process is honourable rather than just knowing this way simply no longer sells products on a consumer PR level. Deep down, though, I know it’s probably a mixture of the two.

The consumer PR industry, though far from perfect, is much improved; from my experiences over the past few years, we have acknowledged and are working on our social responsibility when it comes to how our work affects sexism in our society – but all media-related industries still have a long, long way to go. And, lest we forget, like any industry, PR still has a hell of a lot of “in-house” sexism to weed out.

The methods I and others used during those years helped to enhance an environment of socially acceptable sexism that thankfully, as a result of the bravery of survivors of sexual abuse in all its gory forms, is now being challenged and hopefully will no longer be allowed to go unpunished.