December 11, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Why PR needs to pay attention to studies on gender bias in advertising

Why PR needs to pay attention to studies on gender bias in advertising

During a recent MeasurePR Twitter chat, I filled in for Shonali Burke as the substitute moderator, and our guest was Angie Jeffrey. Angie Jeffrey, APR, is ABX’s Vice President of Brand Management, and is on the team behind the Gender Equality Measure (GEM™). This program was created jointly by ABX and the Association of National Advertisers’ Alliance for Family Entertainment (AFE)’s #SeeHer team. During the Twitter chat, we spent a fair amount of time discussing how gender bias in advertising affects everything from ROI to purchase intent.

Angie’s background includes a great deal of measurement work in public relations, so she’s experienced in both advertising and PR measurement—a great background in data analysis and assessment. It became very apparent to me that PR practitioners should be paying close attention to work that is being done in the advertising realm to address gender bias.

Why measuring for gender bias in advertising matters

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the Advertising Benchmark Index (ABX) have spent a great deal of time and effort to develop ways to determine the level of gender bias in advertising. The study looked at more than 25,000 advertisements, and applied rigorous analysis, which reached an inescapable conclusion: showing negative gender bias is bad for business. Both the measurement process and the findings have been recognized, as the team won the 2017 ESOMAR Research Effectiveness Award.

After developing the Gender Equality Measure (GEM™), the team was able to establish baseline measurements for gender equality scoring of advertising and television shows. Among the findings are that positive gender equality scores increase purchase intent by a whopping 26 percent, and reputation scores improve by 10 percent. Advertisers stand to see real gains when they address and improve gender equality scores in their ads.

How this applies to the practice of public relations

There is fairly widespread consensus that the lines between advertising, marketing, communications, and PR are blurring. Advertising carries an element of PR to it—a poorly designed or tone-deaf advertisement can cause a PR nightmare for a company. This has been a problem that flares up from time to time, particularly for companies that market and advertise products for girls. From the “math class is hard” Barbie in the ‘90s to excessive dosages of pink on, well, everything, advertisers have struggled to find the right approach to appeal to their audience without being insulting. In short, figuring out what gender bias in advertising looks like so that it can be avoided isn’t just a smart move for sales, it also addresses thorny PR problems.

Then, there is the use of the PESO model in public relations work, which requires a blended approach that includes elements of paid, earned, shared, and owned media.

Public relations practitioners are using more images in their work than ever before. This is largely due to the widespread adoption of content marketing, and statistics that indicate people retain more information when text is paired with images. So if you are using images (and you probably are), you need to be aware of biases that can be conveyed through imagery.

Even the use of stock photography needs to be thought through. An interesting piece on Fast Company details how Getty Images, a major provider of stock photography, tracks what images people are searching for—in around 200 countries. When “women coding” and similar phrases showed a spike in the desire for images that presented women in STEM fields, Getty made it a priority to develop more stock imagery that depicts women in leadership roles.

Last, but certainly not least, there is the question of measurement: how companies tie outcomes to business goals can include elements that overlap advertising, marketing, and public relations elements. If a company is using consistent images across all audience outreach and marketing channels, addressing gender bias in advertising will naturally have to flow through to addressing it in marketing and PR. The reverse is true too—if gender bias isn’t addressed across all channels, the ramifications could affect measurement and success in other areas.

As public relations practitioners continue to work toward a better and more integrated approach to measurement, it’s going to be important for us to stay up to date on measurement trends in other communications fields like advertising and marketing. By learning more about what these fields are doing in the way of measurement, we can be proactive in taking the steps to make sure that audience messages are not contradictory, and are instead virtually seamless.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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