Five lessons from on-screen PR pros

Five lessons from on-screen PR pros

I don’t know about you, but I love watching TV shows and movies where characters work in PR and journalism. There are always stereotypes: journalists wear glasses, carry around a notebook and are always working on a story. On the other hand, PR pros live the glamorous lifestyle, never spill red wine while wearing all white and are always spinning stories.

Unfortunately, these aren’t completely accurate (and the relationship between journalists and PR pros is always omitted), but there are a few lessons we can learn about working in the industry.

Here are five of my favorites (with minimal spoilers).

1. Jerry Maguire, “Jerry Maguire”

Lesson: Persevere.

Did you think I was going to say, “Show me the money?” or “Help me, help you.” Either of those could absolutely apply.

But what I associate most with Jerry Maguire is his perseverance. He was caught off-guard with an unexpected situation, and still persevered through a number of disappointments. As PR pros, not every campaign or effort works out all the time. But we still have to press on (pun intended). We have to be flexible and change direction when needed. And we need to be persistent and make sure we, and our clients, succeed.  

By the way, “Show me the money” is still the best quote in the movie.

2. Olivia Pope, “Scandal”

Lesson: Always take on a challenge.

One of the best things about working in public relations is that every day is different. We work on different communications projects, with a lot of different people and sometimes with different clients. Like Olivia Pope, we have to challenge ourselves. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but even in the latest season, she continues to take on challenges. They’re not easy, but we gain new skills, make new connections, and become better at what we do.

3. Peggy Olson, “Mad Men”

Lesson: Take creative risks.

In one episode of “Mad Men,” Peggy devises a publicity stunt and hires two women to fight over a Sugarberry ham in a grocery store to boost sales for the holiday season. The story was picked up by the media and the company’s sales increased.

But then...one woman threatens a lawsuit against the second woman and Peggy is forced to give them both more money to keep the campaign a secret.

First lesson is to leave the publicity to the PR pros.

But the most important lesson is to take creative risks. Peggy stepped out of her comfort zone to impress her clients and to try something new. In the end, it was creative, interesting, and risky. At times, it pays off to take calculated risks, anywhere from media relations to event management.

4. Seth Grayson, “House of Cards”

Lesson: Anticipate clients’ needs.

Aside from all the politics and manipulation in “House of Cards,” Seth Grayson, the Underwoods’ Communications Director, does one thing exceptionally well: he anticipates needs.  

Clients look to PR pros not only for media placements and social media strategy, but for counsel and best practices. We have to understand them, their business needs, and provide the best proactive and reactive strategies.

5. Samantha Jones, “Sex and the City”

Lesson: Work hard, play hard.

How could I leave out Samantha Jones?

Samantha Jones’ life represents two things. The first is what PR pros don’t actually do in their daily lives, like sit around in a glamorous office, get exclusive invitations for all the best bar and nightclub openings in NYC, sit in the front row at Fashion Week, go out to lunch and for drinks...and still have time to spend with friends. The second thing her life represents is what we wish we got to do….and it’s all those things.

But what Samantha does teach us is behind her glamorous lifestyle, she works hard. Then she enjoys it. With all the deadlines, client demands, and crises that arise, it’s important to enjoy life outside of work, as much as we enjoy the work that we do.

Have any other favorite PR characters you think could teach us a thing or two about PR? Share in the comments below.

Julia Sahin works in Corporate Communications at one of the largest PR firms in New York and is a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. She is a recent graduate from the Master’s program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at NYU and was the first to conduct and publish academic research on the reputational effects of regulation on big banks. She plans on doing big things. All opinions should be seen as her own and do not reflect her employer’s.

Photo: Retro TV via Shutterstock

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