On any given day, it’s guaranteed there will be at least six things that make me cross. They’re generally wide-ranging, and more often than not, in the grand scheme of things, not worth getting upset over. They range from people not getting out of the bloody way in both mainline London terminals I use on a daily basis to things I read in the papers via Starbucks’ total inability to make a cup of coffee.
This week, amongst several hundred other things I’ve been cross about (the lack of milk in my house, for example, even though there is no one to blame for that but myself), that which has riled me most has been a display of blatant hypocrisy.
Today is, of course, A-level results day [high school final exams, for those non-UK readers]. In time-honoured tradition, this will be celebrated by the nation’s media with cries that the pass rate is up (hurrah), but the exams themselves have got easier (boo), with more people getting into university (hurrah) but also more people being rejected because of unexpectedly high grades across the board (boo).
All of which will be illustrated by pictures of exceptionally pretty, upper middle-class, leggy blondes (for the most part. Occasionally a brunette, if she’s really pretty) jumping in the air, or smiling as they open the brown envelope to reveal straight A* grades. Or posed, uncomfortably, on a desk and a pile of books. Nicely done, The Guardian, 2009:
Like sunrise, or clockwork, or politicians getting it wrong, Hot A-Level Student Day is a perpetual phenomenon. So much so that last year the utterly magnificent It’s Sexy A-Levels! blog was set up, hypothesising that “UK newspapers believe that only attractive girls in low cut tops do A-Levels” and providing pictorial evidence to support the claim.
Clearly, other people have noticed this phenomenon – some of whom happen to work at, or for, the schools attended by said attractive girls in low cut tops.
This week, a journalist on Twitter received an email from school PR about female A-level students who "take a good picture". Even includes posed pics of young blonde girls jumping. #sigh
This is a journo getting snotty that a PR (if, indeed they were a professional PR. My hunch says not: rule 1 is don’t become the story. Sending this email – quite obviously – runs the risk of becoming the story in and of itself) dare suggest his or her school’s pretty students for pictures for A-level results day.
This royally gets my goat.
Because what the PR (for argument’s sake) was actually doing was their job. They were providing a targeted, relevant pitch, in a timely manner, to a newsdesk which clearly had interest in the subject. They were promoting their client, and providing a easy route for the journalist to obtain material that they’d have gone and got for themselves anyway. In most PRy circumstances: top marks.
Because of the subject matter, people naturally feel squeamish. But PRs don’t just represent celebrities and shoes. The reality is that sometimes we’re paid to represent tobacco companies and pharmaceutical giants. That probably makes people squeamish too. But hey, that’s life. Laws, sausages and public relations: you don’t want to see the inner workings of any of them.
To the people who say they feel uncomfortable with schools proffering their pupil thus: sure, so do I. I’m not saying it’s ok that the PRs are pimping out their students. It’s definitely on the border where taste and decency are concerned, given their duty of care to the students; and I’m sure there are parents out there who’d be horrified (although, having been at the type of school these emails are being sent from, my money is on the girls featured in said posed photos not minding too much…).
But the PRs aren’t the people to get snotty at. Part of our job description is to know what makes the press. Sexy A-level students get press. Instead, get snotty at the media photographers who take the photos of the hot young things year in, year out, and the picture editors who choose them. Because once journalists stop putting pictures of nubile teenagers (because that is what they are) on the front of their papers, PRs will stop providing them. An uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have plenty of other things to go and be cross about for the rest of the day.
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