August 4, 2010

PR The Movie – Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You

Posted in Just for fun, Movies at 9:31 am by Jennifer

When a movie or TV series portrays specific careers I think that it’s interesting how certain jobs are depicted. After the premiere of CSI many more students turned to forensics as a career choice and my sister (a neonatal nurse in Ottawa) loves watching the hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy every week.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

Monday night as I unpacked the very last box in my new apartment, I poured myself a glass of red wine and put in season three of Sex and The City for a bit of much needed wind down time. Oh Samantha Jones, you hard partying PR vixen. Why can I not picture you sitting behind a desk pulling together an extensive media list or creating a critical path for an event?

I’m a self-confessed movie addict which got me to thinking – how else is the PR industry portrayed in film? A few movies came to mind.

Thank you for Smoking – I really love this movie, even though it’s not the most flattering portrayal of PR professionals. What it does is highlight the reality that all kinds of clients and industries need/use PR (from small local charities to multinational corporations.) In the movie the main character Nick never claims there aren’t health risks associated with smoking but instead uses his wit while defending big tobacco, resulting in one of my favorite bits of movie dialogue;

Nick Naylor: Well, the real demonstrated #1 killer in America is cholesterol. And here comes Senator Finistirre whose fine state is, I regret to say, clogging the nation’s arteries with Vermont Cheddar Cheese. If we want to talk numbers, how about the millions of people dying of heart attacks? Perhaps Vermont Cheddar should come with a skull and crossbones.

Senator Ortolan Finistirre: That is ludicrous. The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese!

Jerry Maguire – Oh pre-Oprah couch jumping Tom Cruise, you had me at hello. If this movie taught me anything it’s that integrity, standing by what you believe and taking a risk can be the key to a successful career. As cliché as it sounds, what goes around really does come around in the end.

Wag the Dog – What’s the best way for a President facing a scandal mere weeks before election to divert the attention of American voters? Why, invent a fictional war of course! Robert DeNiro plays a fast thinking “spin doctor” named Conrad Brean who hires a big shot Hollywood producer to literally create a war in the White House basement. The “coverage” is broadcast on TV so that the President can “take control of the situation” and save the day. But really, this story is so farfetched it could never actually happen in America… *cough cough* I think that deception in PR is generally a really bad idea. Once the truth comes out you will lose all credibility.

The Queen –This movie is about relationships, within families but also from a PR standpoint – relationships with the public. After the death of Princess Diana the public becomes increasingly frustrated that the Royal Family has not released a statement. They interpret this silence as a lack of respect or caring. The Queen in the end addresses the public in a moving TV interview. As a public figure or an organization, saying nothing is not always the best course of action. I think there is always something that can be offered to the public, even if it’s just that you have heard their concern.

Chicago – I’m a sucker for a musical, and while Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) is actually a slick talking Chicago lawyer the movie does a very humorous critique of “spinning the truth” and media relations. Things like reinforcing important key messages as well as branding/creating an image are explored to extreme lengths through song and dance.

Sex and the City (movies 1 and 2) – I just had to include these movies because watching the second film I think Samantha taught us all a very important lesson. While visiting in Abu Dhabi her overt displays of sexuality get her into trouble both legally and professionally. While we should be our authentic selves, you are always representing your company/yourself and need to be mindful of your clients and also respectful of cultural differences.

What films have been made about your career, and what do you think about the portrayal?

– BB



  1. John said,

    I’m afraid to say, A Beautiful Mind best illustrates the line that many of us inadvertently cross when we concentrate too hard on our science and too little on our personal relationships.

    Sneakers is also a good film, spoiled only by Robert Redford. It’s got the “we-are-geeks-hear-us-roar” subtext, which is wonderful, together with the idea of mathematicians being the good guys for a change. Pi was good too, although it was felled by the stereotype that good at maths = mental.

    Other than that, your choice of Wag the Dog as a choice of film about the (sometimes) invidious effects of PR is brilliant. Robert de Niro in it is brilliant and I’m a firm believer in the delight to be taken from black comedy. That, and Primary Colors by “anonymous” albeit that it’s more a question of the voice of poor sampling (e.g., let’s go ask a bunch of voters who we know will vote for us what they think).

    • Me and Math are not friends. I broke up with Math in high school and never looked back. But I love Pi, great movie!

  2. There actually was a Public Relations TV show about six years ago. It was light and fluffy and somewhat amusing, but didn’t show the true nature of the game at all. (The show was a comedy on CBC) I think there may have been some “reality” show as well — but it’s best to just pretend that kind of thing doesn’t exist.

    Sadly, they have yet to make a great recent movie about the media… although “Network”, “Talk Radio”, “All The President’s Men”, “The Paper” and “Shattered Glass” are good. “ENG” was a good Canadian series about the TV industry.

    Still waiting for a blogging movie.

    • What passes for “reality” telivision these days is even further from reality than scripted drama. A reality show of my life would show me burning toast in the morning, walking into the occasional lamp post and grocery shopping for this and that. Exciting stuff.

      Blogging movies… hmm… will have to think about that one. I think there must have been one made.

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