I’m both a movie junkie and a PR junkie – which means, I absolutely love movies and TV shows that focus on my industry. With that in mind and as people start queuing up their Netflix for holiday vacations, here is a list of What to Watch for PR Pros:
The West Wing (1999 – 2006)
I’ve often said watching the entire series of The West Wing is like getting a Master’s degree in PR. Granted, the show was on the air just as the internet was coming into play and it is pre-social media, so there are great lines like, “the story is on the internet right now; it will break in wide circulation tomorrow.” Or, plot lines around the fact that you dump news you don’t want anyone to see on Fridays because “nobody watches the news on Friday night.” Ahhhhhh the days when you could truly control the news cycle! As outdated as those moments may be, the show centers around the White House’s communications staff – so ever story spotlights how to charm and disarm the media, how to communicate and stay on message or otherwise shape opinion through media relations. Written almost entirely by my favorite screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, if you want to see how we did it back in the day and hone your strategic PR skills, The West Wing is the way to go.
Thank You For Smoking (2006)
Set aside that this is based on the novel of the same name by one of my all-time favorite authors, Christopher Buckley, Thank You For Smoking is an entertaining movie that centers around a tobacco lobbyist, Nick Naylor, whose mastered the art of spin. His explanation that if you argue your point correctly, you’re never wrong truly demonstrates how language can change minds or even just change the story angle enough to hit your message. It also concludes with the greatest line about PR: “Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk. Everybody has a talent.”
While this show plays PR for pure comedy, it does beautifully highlight the power of public perception. In the show, you see Deputy Parks Director, Leslie Knope lead campaigns ranging from public poll for a new town slogan (including write-in submissions gone wrong) to promoting community events on local news with legendary journalist, Joan Callamezzo and on the radio with Crazy Ira and The Douche. But, my favorite moment can be found in the episode where Leslie and her parks pals are trying to get a high tech company to donate land in one part of town while rebuilding another part of town to use as their HQ. In that scene, Leslie and her boss, Ron Swanson ponder what on earth could persuade the tech company to do such a thing, their answer: PR. After proposing the good PR they’d would generate, the tech company agrees. Seriously – hidden in the comedy are some truly great strategic gems.
Robert De Niro plays a PR strategist who teams up with Dustin Hoffman’s narcissistic Hollywood producer to manipulate and distract the media and the public so they forget all about the President’s sex scandal before the election. Like The West Wing, some of the tactics will come off as a bit dated. There really isn’t any use of the internet and most of the media is represented through television broadcast, radio and print newspapers. And, of course, a good PR pro would never engage in such lies and deception. Nonetheless, the overall strategic discussions and planning are sure to spark your creative juices as you develop that next pitch and proposal.
Also written by Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom is not about PR pros, but rather turns the camera’s lens to the producers and reporters who strive to keep the public informed. The series begins with Jeff Daniels’ character, Will McAvoy creating his own PR blunder when he delivers a speech about how America isn’t the great nation it used to be. McAvoy is a very popular, non-controversial anchor of the nightly news, so his speech is immediately captured and shared online, leaving him to decide whether he wants to continue to live in the center or to really start calling it like he sees it through his position as anchorman. While the show gets a bit preachy, it’s worth it just for the scene where the 10:00 news producer breaks down the sensationalism of a Nancy Grace episode (below).
What are your favorite movies and TV shows that feature PR?