10 ways TV wrongly depicts the PR industry

Pop culture turns its window into most careers into a fun house mirror, of course, but public relations gets glammed up a bit more than most others. Set down your mojito, and take a look.

When it comes to public relations, pop culture has it all wrong, and that makes for a sad state of affairs when PR professionals try to counter television’s inaccurate depiction of the industry.

Shows like “Power Girls,” “Sex and the City,” “House of Cards” and “The Newsroom” have misled viewers into thinking that public relations is solely about looking good and schmoozing your way to the top.

The reality, however, is that the characters on these shows are not the standard, nor do they accurately represent the actual job at hand.

Here are some common PR misconceptions that TV perpetuates:

1. PR is an all-girls club. Unfortunately, one of the biggest and most rampant myths about PR professionals is that they’re all women. TV shows such as “The Hills” have promoted this stereotype, which serves only to repel men from the field. This, in turn, leads to an underrepresented male demographic and perspective. PR is an excellent field for businessmen to enter and excel in, and it’s certainly not exclusive to women.

2. PR is fluffy. Most TV shows only showcase fluffy aspects of the job, such as meeting clients for drinks or networking through cocktail parties. In reality, PR involves a host of demanding activities, including advertising, fundraising, and internal and external communication.

3. PR professionals are style icons. Though some PR types wear designer clothing and drive Porsches, that’s not the typical lifestyle for most PR professionals. Fashion sense and salaries obviously differ, but PR experts must balance comfort with professionalism. Designer accessories can take the focus off the client, and PR is not synonymous with walking the red carpet. Modern and sleek business clothes—not Louboutins and Gucci—are the norm.

4. PR is all about schmoozing. The most classic television depiction of public relations is the schmooze, with PR professionals rubbing elbows with elite players in an effort to win them over. Though this depiction can advance storylines in television dramas, it’s not realistic. PR is defined as “the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public.” Most PR execs don’t have time to kiss up to celebrities and CEOs; they have important work to handle.

5. PR is all about lying and spinning the truth. PR professionals have a bad reputation as liars thanks to the numerous TV shows that promote this unfair notion (thanks, “House of Cards“). In reality, honesty is the best policy in public relations, as the public responds far better to transparency than to smoke and mirrors.

6. PR professionals only work in fashion and entertainment. Sure, some PR professionals work in the entertainment or fashion industries, but those aren’t the only career options. Many companies now use PR-savvy professionals to help with their social media profiles and interactions, and every company (large and small) relies heavily on image and communication, both of which require excellent PR skills.

7. PR professionals must look perfect. It stands to reason that TV’s depiction of a female-exclusive PR environment would also center on impossibly good looks, but in reality, PR is not all about appearances. There’s no beauty requirement to enter the field, contrary to what “reality” shows such as “The Spin Crowd” portray.

8. PR is made up of only young professionals. Either PR types retire extraordinarily early, or older professionals in the industry are simply not represented in pop culture. If you guessed the latter, you’re correct. “Sex and the City” did offer a glimpse of a mature Samantha Jones teaching her young PR counterparts a thing or two, but the prevalence of characters over 30 in the industry is sorely lacking when it comes to prominent television shows.

9. All PR jobs are luxurious. One common misconception is that PR is full of big names in entertainment, sports, retail and fashion. The lavish world of rubbing elbows with CEOs on yachts is a nice idea, but most PR insiders know that the industry is more down to Earth than television shows like to admit.

10. PR professionals aren’t business-minded. For those in the PR industry, the fallacy that they’re all just a bunch of event planners is perhaps the most frustrating of them all. The public relations field requires a great deal of research, insight, attention to detail, awareness and overall management skills that are wholly indicative of business know-how. To say otherwise is simply disrespectful to the entire field and undermines its essential function.

These myths about PR are abundant, but industry professionals know the importance of their work and the value that PR brings to a company. As Ronn Torossian once said, “PR is a mix of journalism, psychology and lawyering; it’s an ever-changing and always interesting landscape.”

Kayla Matthews is a productivity blogger with an enthusiasm for green initiatives and promoting the betterment of society. You can follow her on Google+ and Twitter—or at ProductivityTheory.com—to get updates on all of her latest posts. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a PR platform that enables companies to pitch story ideas to the right journalists, monitor what’s being said about their company in real-time and track the impact of PR campaigns.

Topics: PR


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