PR ≠ Parties + Rock Stars

Picture this: You’re sitting in the First Amendment Forum at the Cronkite School waiting for class to start, and you overhear two people talking about their overwhelming desire to be PR gurus.  Sounds great, right?

Then you hear one of the starry-eyed students profess that she is “super qualified” because she’s just like Whitney Port of The City.  You know, because being decked head to toe in couture clothing, attending fashion and movie premieres, networking with the stars, and being lucky enough to meet model-worthy suitors during impromptu Starbucks runs comes with any PR title.

Wrong.

Television shows like MTV’s The City and HBO’s Sex in the City have branded the PR profession as a glitzy, celebrity-filled, event-planning gig, where “working” consists of setting up martini lunches and black-tie galas.  Unfortunately, some budding PR professionals turn to TV to find examples of their future careers.

“They think it’s glamour and parties and picking out menus,” Len Gutman, founder of Phoenix-based Open Door Communications, said.

In a recent post on Valley PR Blog, Gutman calls out these fictional PR portrayals.  He references E!’s new reality show The Spin Crowd, which highlights Los Angeles-based CommandPR.

Command PR (from what we see on the show, at least) consists of six members.  There’s Jonathan, the CEO and in-house stickler; Simon, Jonathan’s protégé and second in command; Katie, probably the most experienced of the Command girls; Lauren, a former model who “wants to use her brain instead of her looks” (quoted from The Spin Crowd Website); Erika, “who knows nothing about PR and little about business culture”; and Summer, a publicist wannabe from Fresno.

“I wonder if any of the folks at Command PR can write a basic press release?  You think they spend much time on AP style?” Gutman said.

From the looks of it, I think not.

I haven’t watched the show – and honesty, probably won’t – but I wanted to share this with you, in case you stumble upon it while channel surfing.

Remember two things:

1.  Take what you see on The Spin Crowd, or any other reality show, with a grain of salt.

2.  If you’re ever feeling unsure about your abilities, remember you’re all probably way more qualified than these characters on the show! 😉

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11 Responses to PR ≠ Parties + Rock Stars

  1. slarsonm says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this post! I have heard a number of PR students talk about how they want to be just like Samantha on Sex in the City.

    I even had a classmate complain about how much writing we had to do. “Public relations barely has any writing, I don’t know why we have a whole class devoted to it.” I was shocked.

    I admit that when I first thought of PR, that’s exactly what came to mind. However, because of the classes I had and my internship experiences, I now know differently.

    According to the blog PR Breakfast Club, “The primary purpose of public relations is to uphold and enhance the reputation, exposure and brand affinity of companies and organizations. However, as a whole, our industry does a poor job of building its own credibility, positive exposure and brand affinity among its main constituents — businesses and entrepreneurs.”
    (http://prbreakfastclub.com/2010/05/17/establishing-new-pr-reputation/#ixzz10gx96G93)

    I think part of it has to do with the portrayal of the profession; the glitz and glamor of shows like Heather mentioned.

    Another aspect of this is what people who aren’t studying PR think of the profession. When someone hears that I’m in PR, they immediately think a party planner or celebrity publicist.

    In a blog titled Public Relations: Not as Glamorous as Samantha Jones Wants You to Believe, author Daniel Dessinger writes, “The media can be informative, but the media can also be deceiving.” (http://www.culturefeast.com/public-relations-not-as-glamorous-as-samantha-jones-wants-you-to-believe/)

    He talks about the work people need to put in to be a public relations professional. It’s about grammar; it’s about writing; it’s about phone calls and hard work.

    If only the media didn’t glamorize the profession. People wouldn’t come into a job they didn’t want, and others might take us a little more seriously.

  2. lrstarr says:

    I completely agree. TV has entirely glamorized the profession. But, should we expect anything less from a “reality” program on E! executive produced by Kim Kardashian? The show is intended to produce ratings, to be entertaining and drama-filled. Thus, it makes complete sense as to why cameras aren’t rolling on someone editing a press release or compiling a media list. Indeed, the profession is glamorized but “reality” TV or not, the more compelling, intriguing television is distorted. Do forensic investigators really prance around homicide scenes in Prada stilettos?

    The same can be said for Kelly Cutrone’s Kell on Earth that “documents” the inner workings of her firm People’s Revolution. I recall an entire episode that focused on the horror that ensued during a printer meltdown which prohibited the staff from printing a fashion show guest list. If this isn’t a prime example of the lack of entertainment value in the PR industry, I don’t know what is. Even in scripted, multiple take, makeup touch-up land, PR still lacks the glitz factor. Those who can’t see through the phony ploy may still believe in the tooth fairy.

  3. shuscher says:

    I think you definitely bring up some great points. For whatever reason, over the years our field has been fictionalized on television. Although I love the show, Sex and the City is definitely a culprit. Samantha is a fantastic character who is known for being overly truthful, but her career is not exactly accurate. Her job consists of attending the hottest parties, going to the latest club openings and eating at the best restaurants. And her seemingly relaxed schedule allows plenty of time for midday, um, “extracurricular” activities. Do some people have jobs like this? Maybe. But I still think it would require a tad more actual working than Samantha is seen doing.

    The fact that The Spin Crowd, a supposed “reality” show, is doing the same thing is a disappointment. Although I have only seen a little of The Spin Crowd, by the sound of it there’s a bit of a spin on the show itself. Besides the two head honchos, the other employees don’t seem to have a lot of collective public relations experience at all. Instead of actually doing work, the employees are seen obsessing over celebrities and getting plastic surgery. Throughout the whole thing, Jonathon, the president of the company, is seen as neurotic and overly-bossy at every turn. Not very personable for a public relations professional, is he? Unfortunately, like with anything else, we just have to distinguish what we see on TV from the truth.

    Great post!

  4. mwilson9 says:

    This was a rather entertaining read. Thanks for the giggles and the descriptive portraits. I have never seen the show, but I have heard of it. Do you remember the show on MTV called PoweR Girls? Similar concept and fake reality as to the life of public relations practitioners.

    I sincerely hope that budding PR professionals, as you put it, do understand that PR is in fact more than planning lunches and parties. Then again, that’s what J-Schools are for.

    It’s all about press releases, crisis management and a new copy of the AP Style book every couple years, just to stay on point.

  5. kzinn says:

    Great post, and I must say that I fully agree. I feel as though PR gets two stereotypes — the fancy, party-planner Hollywood type or the sleazy, lying, con artist. Either way, few realize that PR is a business and is in fact the business behind many successful businesses. While it’s nice to have shows in the mainstream media drawing attention to our field, they tend to portray the business from a one-sided perspective. While you may plan some events, pick out menus or mingle with celebrities (if you’re lucky) from time to time, there is so much more work that goes into what is portrayed in these shows.

    The Spin Crowd in particular has irritated me for a variety of reasons — the main one being the shameless Kim Kardashian plugs, but that’s another story. If you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t necessarily bother. The show focuses on nothing but the drama between the employees mostly based on their personal lives. They get a job to do, complain about it for awhile, boss the girls around, call some celeb friends and ta-da, that’s about it. Nothing is really shown but the initial job, the drama and the result. Granted, I’ve only seen a few episodes but from what I can tell, there is no airtime of the PR professionals putting in the actual work that goes into making a successful event or campaign. It would be lovely if things were that easy and glamorous but, in reality, PR is a job that takes work and skills. Fortunately for us, we are acquiring those skills here at Cronkite to give us a leg up on the Whitney Port wannabes of the world.

  6. rmmoore5 says:

    I am glad someone wrote about this because it’s true. I hear it all the time that people want to go into the public relations profession because it will be a celebrity-filled, event-planning gig, with large paychecks. Well you nailed it, they are wrong. Another TV example is the T.O. show on VH1. His publicists have the life, working for an all-star athlete and getting to do everything for him while getting paid the big bucks. People perceive these jobs under the PR category and its deceptive in terms of what we actually do as public relations practitioners.

  7. cbaumgar says:

    Although I have not seen the show, I have no doubt that the “reality” stars demonstrate PR in a completely different way than it really is. Because I’ve never worked in event PR specifically, I’m not sure how it works, but I’m positive it is not all glamor and glitz. Working with celebrities and their events would be stressful and probably not as fun as you’d imagine.

    Shows like these are widely watched because people are infatuated with the idea of our business. They think this is PR and that is is so desirable. I agree with Len that these “characters” probably have no idea what a press release is and have never used Cision before. It makes our profession look easy and fun, when in reality, it is lots of hard work!

    Although I’m not sure about the question you are raising in your post, I believe shows like these should have a minute affect on the way real PR professionals view themselves and their work. We work hard on behalf of clients and it should be recognized (but not in a flimsy “reality” show). Without us, many industries and people would fail to be successful.

  8. pperryve says:

    I can’t decide if I’m bummed that you wrote about this before me or if I’m just thrilled at the idea that someone has finally called these airheads out! As someone who takes their education extremely seriously, I am offended when people seem to dismiss what I’m going to school for based on these vapid and superficial caricatures. In fact, this stigma surrounding PR professionals has affected me so much that I’ve decided against actually going into the PR field after school in order to avoid the Whitney Port mumblings.

  9. fspangeh says:

    Great post! I haven’t seen any episodes of The Spin Crowd but I often have to remind people that PR is not what they see on Sex in the City! Most people have a glamorized idea of what we’re studying due to the media but isn’t that the way every job is portrayed? Shows like Nip/Tuck and Law and Order glamorize other professions, such as doctors, lawyers and detectives. I definitely agree that the media makes PR look like a party job but I also think most jobs are misrepresented.

  10. alervin says:

    Hollywood has a way of glamorizing everything. I think that people who choose their career paths based on a show should really try and reconsider. It is important to understand that reality and TV portrayal are much different and that there is no job that coincides with its TV show counterpart.

    I have yet to watch any of these shows you mentioned and don’t think that I want to. I know they will just sensationalize the job. It is because of shows like these that PR representatives get bad reputations as “spin doctors” or liars.

  11. kmcasey1 says:

    I’m guilty of watching these shows and it’s true — they make PR seem like it’s just parties, fashion shows and celebs. You never see them doing any “real” work. This is partly because the shows need to get good ratings and nobody wants to watch someone writing a press release. Star-studded parties equal better ratings. Even though the shows are a nice escape, it does dumb-down PR professionals. It doesn’t show the grueling hours we put into our work, sometimes for little or no pay. These shows do not go into the characters’ previous education. Did they go to college? Have they studied PR? The Spin Crowd gives the message, if you’re friends with a B-list celebrity then you’re in PR. Even though CommandPR seems like a faux PR firm, the show does generate buzz about PR, in general. The more people talking about PR could result in more companies seeing the importance of PR agencies and hiring them.

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