guiding the career in public relations

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Think Before You Ink: Not Everyone Thinks It’s Cool

August 17th, 2012 · 2 Comments


David Clevenger

Tattoos have been on my mind lately—not on my skin, I should point out—but certainly on my mind. 

What I’ve been thinking about is the number of tattoos showing up on young people of all philosophies and political leanings and how these tattoos may affect their careers. Even a conservative college graduate we know has considered getting one on her ankle. So far, she’s not gotten it, but that might be only because she is not ready to be pricked with the pin. 

Although tattoos now are certainly more acceptable than they were only a few years ago, they have not yet gained such wide-spread acceptance that young people should risk their careers on a colorful wrist butterfly, a snake wrapped around a forearm, or a black, silky spider web clinging to a neck. 

Every day, many young applicants walk through the doors of PR agencies, looking for their first jobs. They arrive with great resumes, impressive internships and strong recommendations. But many also arrive with a disadvantage that may cost them the job before they get past the receptionist. They come adorned with tattoos—not those hidden away in places only their best friends will ever see—on their fingers, hands, arms, necks, and, yes, even faces. 

Clearly, they like their tattoos. They see them as a sign of beauty, a spark of creativity, a shock of individualism, perhaps. But seldom do they perceive them as a roadblock to a career.  

The people who run PR agencies are not old sticks-in-the-mud, out of tune with the times. Rather they are communications people, who, perhaps more than most, understand branding and know that employees representing their agencies also represent their brand to current and potential clients. They know their brand is not enhanced by tattoos that attract unwanted client attention and that, to some viewers, are questionable in taste. 

PR, of course, is not the only business questioning whether tattoos are good branding. 

Earlier this summer, opera singer Evgeny Nikitin had to resign from the Bayreuth Festival because of a tattoo. It was on his chest and wouldn’t be visible during his performance, but it had been seen before. And some thought it was an inappropriate symbol for an opera star at a Wagner festival with a policy against Nazi ideology. 

Nikitin says the tattoo was misinterpreted. Nevertheless, it cost him his job and has damaged his career in, as yet, undetermined ways. 

He now wishes he had never gotten the tattoo. According to The New York Times, he has said, “When you’re 18 and you have this, you think it’s cool. But when you’re 50, it starts to seem infantile. Better not to do these things.” 

Whether it’s better not to get a tattoo is up to the individual. But, unfortunately, many young PR job applicants will not have to wait until they are 50 to regret their tattoos that once seemed to them so cool.

Guest blogger David Clevenger writes about business communications at, drawing on his many years of experience in PR and corporate communications. Visit his blog to read another post on tattoos, Two Tattoos: One a Brand, One ‘Unique’.

Tags: Advice from a Pro · Guest Post · Job Search

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Luis Agostini // Aug 27, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Unfortunately this is very prevalent with veterans exiting the military and seeking employment in the private sector. Tattoos have been part of the military culture for generations, but veterans forget that military service cannot last forever. Recently a former Marine was fired from his job as a railroad conductor for having an infamous/profanity-laced quote on his arm.

  • 2 J // Sep 7, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    It’s really interesting to see people openly talk about how they make judgments about a potential employee’s productivity/professionalism because of appearances.

    No recent grad gets their first decent job without an in anyway. You have to know someone who can look past your lack of experience (and appearance I hope) and see your potential to outperform someone with 2-5 years of experience.

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