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Burnt Out By 30? Kelly Cutrone's View on Millennials in PR

Mary Sullivan

Little Black Dress I read “If You Have To Cry, Go Outside” during a few train rides commuting to New York, where I held my first PR job. The book offers an inside look at the fashion PR world and is an autobiography of sorts of reality star Kelly Cutrone’s. Between her self-made religion, affinity for wearing all black (a trend I took on myself in my first post-grad year working in the Big Apple), and being a small-town, upstate New Yorker-turned-TV celebrity, I was hooked.

All the glory and challenges that I experienced while working in the New York PR scene came back to me when I read Kelly Cutrone’s recent quote in Larissa Faw’s recent article in Forbes, “Why Millennial women are burning out at work by 30.” In the Forbes article, Kelly says:

“[Young women] need to learn life is a marathon, not a sprint. College is nothing more than a baby-sitting service. These students are totally unprepared for the real world. The reality for women who want to work in PR is that they are going to be working with 24 catty [women] who will backstab and compete with them. No one will say thank you. You will eat lunch at 5 p.m. It sucks and it’s hard work.”

Looking back on the highs and lows of navigating this business and thinking about Ms. Cutrone’s quote, ask yourself: Do you think your college professors were mere babysitters; Do you think you’re prepared to run a marathon; What does the reality of your PR world look like?

My Two Cents

Were my professors babysitters?

To answer that, I’d like to thank Dr. Magas of Fairfield University, whose introduction to her Business Writing class was, “If you are a sophomore, you really shouldn’t be here, and I don’t care if you have the pre-requisite that says you should,” (I was one of two sophomores in the class). Her 53-page syllabus included feedback from students, including this gem: “I would rather pluck every single hair off of my face than take this class again.”

I kept that student’s quote pinned up in my cube at my first full-time PR stint to remember her advice to fall in love with editing. I’d read it in the horrific moments as a reminder that I was always capable of improving, and how she believed in me by letting me take her class as a sophomore. There are some realities that are hard to know and understand in advance of your first job – which forces you to dive right into the water headfirst. Professors would do well to let aspiring PR professionals know that those waters will have strong currents, and they will be full of rapids.

Am I prepared to run a marathon?

Considering that I would love to relive the days of running track in high school, I have to say a marathon is a tough sell for me. But an unsuspecting “thank you” also goes to Mark Spellman, my college lacrosse strength and conditioning coach who tortured my team with near-impossible workouts and did not care in the slightest how many 400 meter sprints I could do, instead insisting that I was full of it when I tried to chalk up my mediocre three mile time to being a sprinter.

I know the day-in and day-out of what we do in PR isn’t actually running (though it can cause as much adrenaline-pumping and exhaustion!), but the point I’m getting at is that it’s a comfort to know that you can train yourself for a marathon, even if you are a sprinter. In fact, I think I will sign up for a marathon in 2012. Training for it might force me out of the bad habits Cutrone alludes to when referencing 5:00 PM lunches!

What is the reality of my PR world?

Mary Sullivan and Jill Greenwood Mary Sullivan and Jill Greenwood
While I can see the parallels to my PR reality and that of “If You Have to Cry, Go Outside” (I did wear a lot of black to fit in that first post-grad year), the reality of my PR world is actually very different. I still say you can’t go wrong with an LBD (little black dress, obviously), but my dress for our company’s holiday party was yellow-chiffon and lace. Yes, in NYC, to a PR event, I wore canary yellow. And I love that my company’s culture makes me comfortable enough that I don’t feel compelled to wear the obligatory NY-black.

So there it is. An interest take on PR in the real world from one of the industry’s most outspoken figures. Do you agree with Cutrone? What is your personal experience with PR in the "real world?" CJP

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