Why COVID-19 must signal the end of the PR kiss

Third City Associate Director, Lauren Westmore speaks to Women In PR about the awkward ‘client greeting’ and why it needs to stop  

The realisation that I was expected to double kiss an entire room of strangers at my first client meeting, aged 21, was a confusing one. I’d had jobs before. This specific skill set hadn’t cropped up.

A decade later. I’m still just as perplexed by the continued popularity of the ‘PR kiss’. Luckily, the adjustments to the social code enforced by COVID-19 mean it’s moot, for now.

Pre-pandemic, it was believed that the professional double kiss played to a sense of European sophistication. Colleagues in the business a little longer than I suggest that it really gained popularity as a greeting between successful creatives as the PR industry exploded in the late 80s. Maybe it’s an indicator of being part of the ‘in’ crowd.

With news now of several viable vaccines our minds race forward to the binning of our new normal and the dusting off of our old normal. But as much as I want to hop on a train, sit in a meeting room and plough through a box of tiny triangle sandwiches and yogurt pots with you, I wonder if we could sanitise kissing from the process.

First off, show me someone who enjoys the experience. Is it an air kiss, one kiss or two, who goes first? Nobody knows. It’s awkward.

If you can’t immediately see the gender politics at play, think about it. Men just shake hands, why are women expected to give up their cheeks and often lips to say hello? It places us immediately on the back foot. We might all then sit down at the same table, but the power dynamics are slightly tilted.

And there are many valid reasons – some more serious than others – why people may find kissing a relative stranger uncomfortable.

Personally, I’ve taken a COVID-minded approach to the matter long before news of the pandemic broke. Did I pioneer social distancing? No, but as soon as I felt comfortable enough, I told people how awkward kissing made me feel.

I needn’t have worried. My most senior colleagues backed me in various meeting rooms as I found the confidence to tell clients – Heads Of and even a CEO or two – that I didn’t do kisses. And you know what, not one of them batted an eyelid.

‘But it’s part and parcel of working in a creative industry, you millennial snowflake.’ Well, ask around and see what response you get.

I appreciate that a kissed greeting is often ingrained, culturally or professionally. However, I believe that everyone should respect the boundaries of others they meet in a business setting.

If you need to, ask. And if asking is awkward, maybe that’s instructive.

Roll on the vaccine. Roll on the face-to-face meetings. Roll on the trays of tiny triangle sandwiches. But I’ll be pleased if COVID-19 has at least fast-tracked the beginning of the end of the PR kiss. Want to do business? Let’s spare the kisses and talk.