chapter  4
Gendered performance and identity work in PR consulting relationships: a UK perspective
Pages 21

This chapter, which examines identity work in UK public relations (PR) consulting relationships, seeks to provoke students and researchers to think about gender as it is performed in everyday PR practices and how these practices might relate to the broader context of a numerically ‘feminized’ profession where women occupy the lower and middle ranks, and men occupy the upper echelons (CIPR 2011). ‘Diversity’ issues in PR have only recently become the subject for discus-

sion and policy-making by the UK’s professional bodies (PR Week 2012), yet the so-called ‘debate’ surrounding gender remains muted within the industry and largely unexamined from an academic perspective. Drawing on original research with agency practitioners, as well as literature from PR, gender studies and emotional labour, this chapter takes a critical-interpretive stance that raises questions about whose interests are served by gender segregation in PR, including the ‘professional project’ itself. Few scholars have explored gender and identity in PR consulting

relationships (with the exception of Krider and Ross 1997; Fröhlich and Peters 2007; Tsetsura 2010 and 2011) and none has explored these themes through the theoretical lens of emotional labour (Hochschild 1983). Emotional labour theory highlights the role of gendered performance in managing the feelings of self and others in service-orientated occupations. This chapter draws on empirical work to explore, from accounts of their everyday relationships with agency managers, colleagues, clients and journalists, how female and male PR consultants negotiate identity in the process of doing ‘emotion work’ (Hochschild 1983: 220). The chapter begins by outlining the concepts of ‘gender’ and ‘gender

identity’ in social theory. It moves on to describe the concept of gendered emotional labour in regard to PR work, and reflects on how it applies specifically to consultants. The literature on gender identity construction is explored for social and interactional features that explain practitioners doing ‘emotion’ work in agency relationships. Six PR consultants’ experiences illustrate how identity is produced through gendered performances, often in response to stereotypical images of PR as well as its

‘professional project’. The conclusion considers the research implications in the wider debates of professionalization and the feminization of PR.