PR on TV: More, Please!

By Matter

Working in PR, we’ve probably all struggled to explain exactly what we do to family and friends. Our chosen profession is not as easily understood when compared to careers like being a teacher, lawyer, doctor, even an ad exec. In part, I suspect it’s because most people have seen those other professions accurately represented on TV shows and in movies. Yet it’s rare that a show or movie presents a character who works in PR…and even rarer still that what he or she is shown actually doing at work matches what any of us do on a day to day basis. The closest I’ve come to seeing a realistic portrayal of PR on the silver screen was back when “The West Wing” was on the air, and Alison Janney played C.J. Cregg, White House press secretary. In some ways, it was that role that inspired me to enter the industry in the first place.

Recently though, PR has popped up on some other shows and it’s been really interesting to see how it’s depicted. I watched one episode total of Bravo’s “Kell on Earth,” and that was one too many. Katie Cassidy portrayed a pretty convincing PR practitioner on the short-lived reboot of “Melrose Place,” but writing press releases and counseling clients in real life is a little bit different than what was shown on that show. ABC aired a run of “Grey’s Anatomy” webisodes, showing the characters working with a marketing and PR consultant trying to help the hospital re-brand itself in the wake of a shooting. It was exciting to see some of my favorite characters, on one of the biggest hit shows, actually talking about crisis PR and touching briefly on the kinds of work we do with our clients though, admittedly and thankfully, that level of crisis is not exactly an everyday occurrence, either.

Despite these instances, I’ve still wondered why there aren’t more characters on TV that work in the communications and marketing industries. This is especially true given PR has grown so much over the past few years and has become so critical for public figures and celebrities, as well as companies of all sizes. Now, word is that ABC has greenlit a pilot from “Grey’s” creator Shonda Rhimes, about a public relations crisis expert and her staff as they try to help high-profile clients navigate various PR landmines. Sure, the show will probably focus on extreme cases and scenarios that most of us would be lucky to never have to encounter with our own clients, but I’m looking forward to it. It will be refreshing to see a TV show shine the spotlight on how PR can make or break the perception of a person or company (especially after a scandal). And who knows…maybe it will also help some of my friends and family get a better sense of what I do every day.