Hollywood has a habit of stereotyping careers. Bankers will always be portrayed as greedy, firemen as brave. But when it comes to PR – a career which is not widely understood – the portrayals in Hollywood are often negative. PR professionals in movies are often sleazy, underhanded, and corrupt and while this may not relate to the actual state of the industry, it does seem to be the prevalent depiction in films.
Inspired by this scenario, Image Management ran a poll on LinkedIn over the last month to gauge what film Public Relations professionals across the world loved to watch.
Our question asked them to identify “What is Your Favorite PR Movie” from a list of pre-determined answers which included:
1) Jerry Maguire
2) Thank You For Smoking
4) Wag The Dog
As demographically varied responses came in from public relations professionals across the world – which PR practitioners from India, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Canada, and the US contributing – the results were clear. A figure of 34% of the total responders said that Thank You For Smoking was their favorite PR movie, outgunning the second most popular response of Jerry Maguire. 19% of the respondents said they liked Wag the Dog, while 11% preferred Hancock. 10% of the respondents selected Other, and the plethora of comments received suggest that there is much divided opinion about what movies PR professionals like.
1) Thank You For Smoking – The clear favorite amongst respondents was 2005’s Thank You For Smoking, directed by Jason Reitman, and starring Aaron Eckhart as a smooth talking lobbyist working on behalf of the tobacco industry. Intelligent and funny in equal measure, the movie is a gem that many PR professionals will relate to and the comments we received are indicative of that. Duncan Matheson, Owner of Bissett Matheson in New Brunswick Canada says “ No contest – hands down best PR movie – Thank you for smoking.” Michael Parks, Founder and President of Pitch360, agrees, saying “Nothing comes close to Thank you for smoking.”
2) Jerry Maguire – This 1996 movie, directed by Cameron Crowe, starred Tom Cruise as a glossy 35 year old sports agent who quits his agency job after a nervous breakdown. A huge blockbuster, this big budget romantic comedy has several lines embedded into popular culture – who can forget the famous “Show me the money” line? A long time favorite with PR professionals, the movie’s position as second favourite validates its popularity. However, not everyone agreed that it should even be on the list – David Brimm, President of Brimmcomm, saying “Come on, Jerry Maguire is about sports agents, not PR people. Should not even be on the list.”
3) Wag the Dog – A 1997 black comedy starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, Wag the Dog seemed to be the cult favourite amongst PR pros. Directed by Barry Levinson, and focusing on the exploits of a Washington Spin Doctor who creates a fake war to distract from a sex scandal facing a Presidential candidate, this movie raised several voices of support in the discussions that our poll started. Brian Kemp, Director at SparkPR in San Francisco, said “For the best, I have to say “Wag The Dog” – how the characters try to manage the story through the twists and turns is brilliant. I still say the line, “This is NOTHING” to get through the occasional tough week.” Pavel Rulev, Head of Internal and External Communications at TNK-BP Businesservice in Russia, agreed, saying “the film that hasn’t lost its ‘applicability’ and we still see many of those methods applied in real life.”
4) Hancock – The outsider in this poll, Hancock is a 2008 superhero movie which stars Will Smith as an alcoholic, grumpy superhero who is given an image makeover by a PR pro played by Jason Bateman. Mostly, PR professionals like the movie for its realistic and sympathetic portrayal of PR. As David Brimm, President of Brimmcomm, put it “Jason Bateman’s portrayal of PR agency exec Ray Embrey in this 2008 film was a refreshing look at a competent, empathetic PR professional. He gave good advice to clients, didn’t compromise his integrity, and was a success in his industry.” Mike Breslin, from the University of Central Oklohoma, added “it was nice to see a PR person in a movie portrayed as a decent person, vs. A) A woman hired for her looks, or B) A sniveling, backstabbing weasel.”
1) Phone Booth – David Brimm, President of Brimmcomm: “In this 2003 movie, Colin Farrell portrays Stu Shepard, an arrogant, selfish, foul-mouthed and dishonest publicist, who contemplates cheating on his wife with Pam, a young actress portrayed by pre-L. Ron Hubbard, Katie Holmes. We see a disdainful Stu lying to clients about work he hasn’t done, and mistreating an eager young assistant who follows him around like a puppy. A real disservice to hardworking publicists. We almost wish that Kiefer Sutherland does shoot Stu.”
2) Sex and the City – Nancy Hite Norde, Account Director at RLM Public Relations, echoed several other PR professionals who did not care for this television series and movie’s portrayal of public relations, saying “Sex in The City did not help our profession either. Amanda made a lot of money, I never really saw her work.”
3) The China Syndrome –According to David Brimm, “This 1979 classic gave a boost to investigative TV news reporting but cast a jaundiced pall on the nuclear industry and on public relations. James Hampton portrays the head of public relations for the fictional Ventana power plant. While he is giving a routine tour of the plant so that a TV reporter portrayed by Jane Fonda and her cameraman (Michael Douglas) can shoot some “B roll,” the plant starts to ominously shake. Fonda and Douglas go into their “save the world mode” while Hampton goes into his “lying, sniveling worm” mode to try and kill a story of what will be recognized as a major plant design deficiency. In the end only Jack Lemmon gets killed. This film may have been the impetus for PR folks everywhere to have a crisis communications plan on hand.”