Speak Now: Women, the Media and PR

20/04/2016 11:53

Amongst the most interesting stats of the past week or so were those produced by online publication Polygraph revealing just how underrepresented women are in movies. Its survey of 2,000 recent films showed not only that women have a much smaller number of lines to deliver on screen than men, but also that they get far fewer lead roles than male actors. Strikingly, the situation gets worse as actresses get older, with the amount of dialogue allocated to women going down and down with every passing year - whereas older men get more and more verbose (surprise, surprise).

This is hardly a new story. Listeners to the Kermode and Mayo film review podcast are treated regularly to Mark's comments about the representation of women on celluloid. He cites the Bechdel test: namely that to be considered non-gender-biased movies must have two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. And the story is not limited to film. There are plenty of other studies pointing out the limited and patronising roles all too often played by women in all forms of media and communications.

Coverage of the current EU referendum campaign is a case in point, with strikingly few female voices and faces in the media talking about the issues. But that's not wholly surprising, given that the two campaigns are making very little use of spokeswomen and instead are relying on a smorgasbord of white, middle-aged, men. This is astonishing when the Remain camp, at least, has identified young and women voters as key. I'm not working for either side, but here is some free and mind-numbingly obvious advice: maybe, just maybe, these audiences want to hear occasionally from people who look and sound like them. They might also want to hear some vision and positivity too, but that's another blog altogether.

Securing proper representation in the media for the female half of the population is an on-going battle. Small steps forward have been made, such as the launch by the 30% Club last year (as it happens at the office of MHP Communications) of the Women for Media UK database. This is a great initiative which aims to make it easier for newspapers and broadcasters to find women to provide comments and content. But anyone consuming any sort of media today can see that there is a long way to go.

I think the PR industry can and should play its part, alongside broader efforts to promote and support diversity. In this case we should contribute to increasing the number of women on our screens and in our newspapers not just because it is morally correct but also because it is the right advice to give and the right thing to do. Specifically, when advising clients about which spokespeople to use we should remind ourselves (and them) of the evidence that women are perceived as warmer, and are less likely to be seen as liars, than men. Given that sincerity and authenticity are critical components of any successful brand this is an important consideration - and it goes without saying that women of course make up half of all consumers and voters. Maybe it is time for PR to develop a Bechdel test of its very own?