The PR industry’s high school stereotypes

Meet the popular kids, the jocks, the nerds, and the new kids of the public relations profession.


Every movie involving a high school plays up dramatic stereotypes of cliques and groups that rely on their members’ interests, looks, or personalities.

These groups affect where people sit, where they eat, with whom they hang out, and even with whom they are allowed to talk (depending on rank in popularity).

All of us might be out of high school, but we will never escape the lessons we learned from the jocks, cheerleaders, stoners, and hipsters.

No matter your group in high school, some point you interacted with those of another clique. This is when your PR skills started to form.

You, as a future PR pro, started finding a common ground to talk and build a relationship with them. Obviously, this may not have been a relationship in which you invested a large amount of time, but you may have benefited from this relationship down the road.

You could have been a jock asking a nerd to help with homework or a band geek asking a cheerleader for a makeover. You used your interpersonal skills to communicate and build a relationship, just as PR professional build relationships with clients and media.

Here are four classic high school groups, and their PR industry equivalent:

The popular kids: Crisis communicators

“Mean Girls” is a hilarious, cliché-packed high school movie that shows crisis management at its best. The popular girls, known as “plastics,” are constantly in crisis mode to ensure they maintain their status.

For these girls, every day is a new challenge full of surprises. One moment they could be on top of the world, the most popular girls in school, and then something happens—a stain on their shirt or wearing sweat pants twice in one week—that means disaster for their status and reputation.

In other words, they are the ultimate crisis communicators—constantly on their toes and combatting negative press (traditional or otherwise) at every pass.

The jocks: Executives

In most movies about high school, jocks are known as the attractive, rude, and sometimes dumb characters. Think about Biff (played by Thomas F. Wilson) from “Back to the Future,” Greg Tolan (played by classic ’80s jock/bully William Zabka) from “Just One of the Guys,” or Big Red (played by Lindsay Sloane) from “Bring It On.” They rule the school, often with an iron fist.

Remind you of anyone in your office? Perhaps someone who occupies the C-suite? They can be terrible, roaming the office looking for lunch tables to overturn (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Then again, they can also be jocks with hearts of gold, such as Emilio Estevez’s character from “The Breakfast Club,” who falls for someone far from his social stratus.

The nerds: Social media’s early adopters

The nerds are always the unsung heroes in high school movies, or in some films, the full-blown heroes. Thanks to their nerdy prowess, they can wow an audience (“Revenge of the Nerds”) or take on an epic adventure (“Goonies”).

It’s kind of like social media’s early adopters. While the executives (jocks) are ridiculing them for not focusing on what’s important, they’re laying the foundation for fame, fortune, and success in the future.

The new kid: Young PR pros

When the Ren McCormack character in “Footloose” (first played by Kevin Bacon, later played by Kenny Wormald in the 2011 remake) arrives in the small town of Bomont, he’s faced with a series of challenges, from the authorities to the high school bullies. And what does he do? He dances his way out of trouble.

If only young PR pros—the new kids in the office, like Ren—had it so easy.

They’re faced with new challenges every day, sometimes they navigate these challenges with skills, other times they stumble. But never estimate a new PR professional with a good attitude, a lot of enthusiasm, and some skill.

Like Ren, they’ll not only knock your socks off with their moves, but maybe even change the establishment along the way.

Matthew Dougherty is a public relations assistant at BLASTmedia (@BLASTmediaPR), a PR and social media agency in Indianapolis. Follow him on Twitter @matt_door_t.

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Topics: PR

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