Public Relations as Emotional Labour  book cover
1st Edition

Public Relations as Emotional Labour

ISBN 9781032178011
Published September 30, 2021 by Routledge
240 Pages

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Book Description

Inextricably linked to neoliberal market economies, public relations’ influence in our promotional culture is profound. Yet many aspects of the professional role are under-researched and poorly understood, including the impact on workers who construct displays of feeling to elicit a desired emotional response, to earn trust and manage clients. The emotionally demanding nature of this aspirational work, and how this is symptomatic of "always on" culture, is particularly overlooked.

Drawing on interviews with practitioners and agency directors, together with the author’s personal insights from observations in the field, this book fills a significant gap in knowledge by presenting a critical-interpretive exploration of everyday relational work of account handlers in PR agencies. In underscoring the relationship-driven, highly contingent nature of this work, the author shows that emotional labour is a defining feature of professionalism, even as public relations is reconfigured in the digital age. In doing so, the book draws on a wide range of related contemporary social and cultural theories, as well as critical public relations and feminist public relations literature.

Scholars, educators and research students in PR and communications studies will gain rich insights into the emotion management strategies employed by public relations workers in handling professional relationships with clients, journalists and their colleagues, thereby uncovering some of the taken-for-granted aspects of this gendered, promotional work.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction and guide to chapters.  2. Emotional labour in a global context: a framework.  3. Promotional culture and the ‘market’ for emotional labour in public relations.  4. Interrogating the ‘pink ghetto’: gender and public relations.  5. ‘Skilled emotion workers’: PRPs’ emotion management in everyday professional relationships.  6. Professional relationships in public relations: agency directors’ perspectives of emotion management.  7. Conclusions.  8. Appendix: researching emotions: from theory to methodology.

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Liz Yeomans was Reader in Public Relations and Communication at Leeds Business School, Leeds Beckett University, UK, until her retirement in January 2018. She continues to supervise doctoral work and is a peer reviewer for journals in the fields of public relations and communication management. She remains interested in the emotional dimension of organisations and public relations’ role in society and culture, which continues to influence her research and writing projects.


"This ground-breaking book on Public Relations as Emotional Labour highlights a hitherto unexplored perspective of public relations practice in the digital age. By examining how, when, and why emotional labour is deployed in everyday PR agency practice, this book creates new knowledge and theory illustrating the relationship-driven and highly contingent nature of this work.

Based on a wide range of social cultural, critical and feminist theory and empirical data, the book contributes to situate everyday practices of account handlers in PR agencies in a broader socio-cultural context of PR labour. In this context, PR work is characterized by parallel struggles towards professional legitimacy and gender struggles within the ‘pink ghetto’ through PR practitioners’ day-to-day interactions with clients, journalists, colleagues, and online influencers. While the focus in contemporary society often is placed on the individual, the book also discusses the important gender and social structures influencing the profession that are routinely reproduced rather than critically reflected upon.

It is a fresh approach where the so-called ‘soft skills’ of relationship management and emotional labour, which are too often ignored or downplayed and thus go unrecognized are put on the front stage and analyzed, and the traditional (masculine) discourse of professional work within the PR industry that focuses on ‘hard’ skills such as big data, measurement and evaluation, and ‘return on investment’ supposed to generate legitimacy is transferred to the back stage.

This is a rare but important inversion, in the light of the feminization of the PR profession, where a critical part of the legitimization processes of the profession is accomplished through interactions with clients and other stakeholders that contribute to instil confidence and earn trust. Thus, by addressing and critically interpreting how the ‘emotional turn’ in contemporary society is handled by PR practitioners in the PR industry, this book fills a significant gap in knowledge.

The book lifts the veil and displays the emotion management strategies employed by public relations workers in relationships with clients, journalists, and other stakeholders thereby uncovering taken-for-granted aspects of this gendered, promotional work. It is highly recommended to scholars, educators, and research students in PR and communication studies." — Catrin Johansson, Professor in Organizational Communication, Mid Sweden University

"If you are a PR professional or academic you need to read this book. It takes seriously professional identity focused in complex and plural relationships. It takes seriously the emotional dimension of that interaction, and what it means to own that. That I suggest is real emotional labour, involving a critical stance, not just to performance, but to the value in and of the interaction and how that is worked through. This is the opposite of spin, involving the hard work of integrity. And the importance of Yeomans’ evolving theory goes well beyond the PR profession. All professions are focused in communication and the mediating of the self and society….so they all need to engage with this thinking." — Rev. Dr. Simon Robinson, Professor of Applied and Professional Ethics, Director of Research Centre for Governance, Leadership and Global Responsibility, Leeds Beckett University, UK

"Working in public relations is complicated and highly demanding. In her new book, ‘Public relations as emotional labour’, Dr Yeomans offers an exciting, ground-breaking contribution to our understanding of the challenges of working in a field that is frequently disparaged for seeking to persuade and to influence public opinion. Her application and development of emotionality to the field of public relations is founded on an in-depth understanding of the ethical responsibilities of public relations and a deep commitment to organizational and social change. Dr Yeomans is one of the leading public relations scholars in relational practice and gender issues and within this book she makes significant theoretical contributions to the field of public relations, focusing on the study of emotionality and gender." Judy Motion, Professor of Communication, Environmental Humanities, University of New South Wales, Australia