Last night, after a long day, I decided to treat myself and binge watch Workin’ Moms Season 4, with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s. This is what luxury looks like, when you have two young children: a few hours of peace and quiet, and not having to share my ice cream with anyone!
The lead character, Kate Foster, is a successful PR Executive who runs her own agency, and her job/career is a big part of the story line. While some of you may think this is probably the reason why I enjoy this show so much, in fact, it’s the one part of the TV show that ruffles my feathers. I have a problem with the inaccuracy and misrepresentation of Public Relations as a profession in movies and TV shows.
As I was mulling over it late last night, I realised that most PR characters on TV are cynical, manipulative, money grabbing and back stabbing phonies whose primary skill is to have a shallow quickness of the mind and a sharp tongue to spin just about anything in favour of a brand or client. It’s not surprising PR pros get such a bad rap!
It’s hard for people to understand what PR actually is but the way it is portrayed in movies just adds to the confusion and misconception. People latch onto the spin doctor thing because they can wrap their heads around that: PR is the art of making bad things go away, or saving a brand’s reputation at all cost.
Karen Miller’s study of 118 movies or novels spanning 1930 to 1995, containing a PR character, showed that 103 of the 202 characters lied for their clients or to protect themselves, and lack the moral fiber. PR was, and still is, depicted as either “embarrassingly easy” - all it takes is a little black book of contacts and a phone call or a cocktail with a reporter to fix everything, or impenetrable “black magic.”
More than two decades later, the narrative hasn’t changed that much, although PR as an industry has changed considerably! PR goes far beyond media relations, and has undergone a transformation that caters to today’s tech-savvy and hyperpersonalised digital age.
We are seeing a surge in Public Relations being featured prominently in popular culture but audiences’ beliefs about public relations techniques and the genre of spin are unfortunately reinforced. No movie or novel (that I know of) focuses on the mechanics of PR with the same intensity that the myriad of TV documentaries, movies or shows examines the mechanics of newspaper reporting for example.
Here’s the thing though. We have to remember pop culture does not offer a mirror but a distorted lens through which diverse–and often inaccurate–meanings of public relations can be constructed. And the main goal of pop culture, remains entertainment rather than education at the end of the day.
The reality, however, is that the characters on these shows are not the standard, nor do they accurately represent the actual job at hand.