Fav Hollywood depictions of PR

I’m catching up on Season 5 of The Crown and last night watched in horror as BBC journalist Martin Bashir forged bank statements to make Princess Diana think her own private secretary was spying on her.

Fact-checked it, and yes, it really happened. Kinda hard to keep insisting to bosses and clients that journalists are about the truth when Hollywood highlights glaring fails like that.

This reminded me of a previous newsletter where I criticized a holiday movie’s depiction of PR and asked if anyone has found an entertainment version of PR that accurately reflects what we do.

The collective answer was “no such movie or TV show exists, but here’s my favorite depiction of PR in pop culture.”

The runaway winner was C.J. Cregg in The West Wing. Speaking of ethical failures, how about the White House spokesperson having a romantic relationship with a member of the WH press corps?

Second-most-referenced was Thank You for Smoking. Yeah, it’s starting to make sense why our friends and family think “spin doctor” when they hear what we do for a living.

Here are some of the other considerations for your potential weekend viewing.

“The PR person in the early episodes of WeCrashed was pretty on point – especially as someone working with an egomaniac founder/CEO.”

“In You’ve Got Mail, there’s a funny moment when Tom Hanks watches his TV interview edited down into one nasty sound bite, which would make a great media training clip.” (Michael here – I looked for this online but couldn’t find it.)

“If you want to see a truly amazing film that I feel is a master class in messaging, Brexit with Benedict Cumberbatch is just spectacular. If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth a watch.”

One subscriber cited Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs movie and Kate Winslet’s depiction of Joanna Hoffman. Although Hoffman was a marketing exec, she counseled on media relations as well. “She advised Jobs when needed, often disagreeing and giving tough feedback. I think it also showed how hard it can be for marketing/PR people to manage big personalities.”

UPDATE: After I posted this I got several more great submissions from subscribers:

The most frequent response was, “What, no Succession?” Character Karolina is several subscribers’ Hollywood avatar for a competent PR pro. It was interesting to me that when I first called for submissions in December no one remembered her, but this follow-up post landed in the middle of season four, so many did.

Annie Montrose, NASA’s PR director on The Martian, actually has the backbone and personality to stand up to her boss.

So does Garrett Moore on Blue Bloods, in that case supporting the NYC police commissioner. Two subscribers suggested his depiction is pretty accurate.

One film that subscriber David submitted as an inspiring depiction of PR’s potential for good is Endgame, “a 2009 TV movie about the end of apartheid in South Africa, where Michael Young, Consolidated Gold Fields' PR director, moved the company to foster breakthrough negotiations to create a better environment for the nation, its people – and businesses such as Goldfields.”

I had carved out a distinction from political communications, but in the spirit of being comprehensive I’ll add subscriber submissions Our Brand is Crisis and Wag the Dog.

Some fun quotes as remembered by subscribers:

Season one of Master of None features Dev Shah (Aziz Ansari) pursuing Rachel (Noël Wells), who does PR for bands. Great line: “Rachel's grandma begs Dev ‘What does Rachel do for a living? Do you understand her job?’ And Dev replies, ‘She does music PR, so, you know, she's in charge of… All right, I don't know what she does. We get free tickets for concerts, though. It's nice.’”

Mr. Woodcock – Amy Poehler plays a book publicist who tells her client, “Look, I don't care if your granny's on fire. This is Oprah! She farts on a book, and it magically sells a million copies.”

Going way back . . . 1987’s Making Mr. Right features a PR consultant hired to teach a lifelike android human behavior. Weirdly full circle in today’s AI bot climate. This film actually inspired one subscriber to pursue PR as a career, and she is still subscribing to PR newsletters 36 years later :).

Thanks to all the subscribers who contributed!

This article was originally published on May 3, 2023

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