PR in the Mass Media: A Professional Review of Eight Popular Public Relations Characters

It’s rare to find a good example of public relations in the mass media. We see characters that bribe, lie and cheat in order to achieve the results they need, which paints a poor picture of a communication specialist. Though most of these characters are entertaining, knowing some people may view them as legitimate PR pros is rather disappointing.

Take a look at the following review of eight popular TV and movie characters by Elevation intern Amanda Kluttz.

Samantha Jones / Sex and the City: Jones is a well-known public relations executive in New York who owns an agency. She portrays the PR profession as planning extravagant parties, attending star-studded events, and enjoying access to the newest and most popular restaurants and bars. No need to go into further detail with Ms. Jones. Professional Score: 1/5

Shauna Roberts / Entourage: Roberts is a brutally honest publicist who represents the show’s main character, celebrity Vincent Chase. She is seen throughout the series helping her client make big media appearances and in the final season she manages damage control over an article published by “Vanity Fair” that calls Chase an “insecure womanizer.” Roberts’ casual behavior and vulgarity with her client, however, make it hard to believe she is a respected and successful PR professional. Professional Score: 3/5

Lee Phillips / America’s Sweethearts: Movie publicist Lee Phillips is hired to promote a film featuring two stars known as “America’s Sweethearts” who in reality are going through an ugly divorce. But that isn’t the only challenge he’s faced with, as his job is also complicated with the fact that the kooky, erratic film director refuses to let the studio screen the movie until the press junket. Phillips’ day-to-day scenarios remind us of common comical days in the office, but his character lacks strategic counsel and media relations. Professional Score: 3/5

C.J. Cregg / The West Wing: Cregg holds a very prominent position at the White House as press secretary. Her strong relationships with the White House Press Corps, outstanding intuition on managing crises and charming wit and sense of humor are just a few reasons why PR professionals everywhere fell in love with Cregg. She is later named chief of staff. Professional Score: 5/5

Conrad Brean / Wag the Dog: Brean is a spin doctor for the President of the United States whose sole purpose is to make the president look good during his upcoming re-election campaign. His “spinning” doesn’t involve turning the president’s sex scandal into a positive news story, but rather creating a fake war, complete with fake military to take attention away from POTUS. His ethics should give his character a PR rating of zero, but his mind-blowing creative strategy gives him extra points. Professional Score: 2/5

Olivia Pope / Scandal: Pope, a former White House director of communications, owns a crisis management practice that attempts damage control in “scandals” involving public figures. Her media training sessions and advice are on par with the PR profession, but cleaning up crime scenes and helping clients hide discretionary spending are major red flags when it comes to ethics. Professional Score: 4/5

Nick Naylor / Thank You for Smoking: Naylor is vice president and spokesperson for a tobacco lobby called Academy of Tobacco Studies. He is tasked with spinning questionable research, mostly funded by tobacco companies, that has found there is no link between smoking and lung cancer. Although the story is a good example of how PR professionals use positioning strategy, Naylor’s bribery and shady communication is far from an accurate depiction of public relations. Professional Score: 2/5

Jerry Maguire / Jerry Maguire: Maguire is a thriving sports agent who loses his job over a memo about corruption in the sports management business. He tries to retain several of his clients, but is unsuccessful with all but one who happens to have high demands with his athletic career. In the end Maguire secures an $11.2 million contract for the client to finish his pro football career. Though Maguire doesn’t fully practice public relations, his dedication to his client, pitching strategy and negotiating skills give him points on the PR scale. Professional Score: 2/5

Amanda Kluttz, a communication studies major, is in her junior year at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.  

Image Sources: HBO, NBC, ABC, Gracie Films/TriStar Pictures.