What Hollywood Gets Wrong About PR

May 23, 2023 | Amanda Green

I wanted to yell at the TV while watching Workin’ Moms this week. It was another episode where a high-profile client waltzes into Kate Foster’s boutique PR firm and she instantly makes them the biggest name in their industry and fixes everything for them. That’s just not how it works!

I get it. Public Relations is a fascinating profession. That’s why it is often romanticized in Hollywood movies and TV shows. From Samantha Jones in Sex and the City to Kate Foster in Workin’ Moms, it seems like Hollywood has a way of glamorizing and oversimplifying what it means to work in PR. But, as anyone in the industry can attest to, the reality of PR is much different from the glitz and glam portrayed in pop culture. 

One of the most common misconceptions that Hollywood perpetuates is that PR is all about party planning and event management. Orca publicist Rita Tennyson points out that in Happy Gilmore, the PR lady set up events for the golf tournament and interviews with the golfers, which is not necessarily what most PR professionals do in real life. Of course, event planning is a niche part of PR, but the person who plans your swanky events is probably not the same person who solves your image problems and schedules your press interviews. 

We’re always amused by the Hollywood portrayal of PR as a glamorous profession. Sure, some niche areas of PR come with fancy offices, designer clothes, and stylish accessories. Orca Publicist Allyson McCormley points out Samantha Jones in Sex and the City. She’s super glamorous and never misses a new club or restaurant opening in New York City. Emily in Paris is another example – she’s a mid-level social media account manager, yet somehow affords a lavish lifestyle in Paris. While it’s true that you have to look the part in fashion PR (one publicist even mentions an agency that measured the length of their employee’s skirts), most publicists are just average people.

Orca’s CMO, Cynthia Guiang agrees, saying that agency life is anything but glamorous. This is especially true when it comes to traveling for trade shows and press tours. You spend more time on your phone and glued to your computer screen with documents and spreadsheets, than you do shaking hands with high-profile individuals. Networking is a critical part of PR, but getting results for clients is more important, and fancy lunch meetings are far less common than Hollywood would lead you to believe. (As if every publicist has the President of the United States on speed dial). Remember The Hills, which basically portrayed PR people as sitting around having long lunches every day?

Another misconception is that PR is only about getting celebrities to endorse a product or service. Publicist Derek Mora noted that people often think PR professionals are connected to celebrities or have an in with them, which is not usually the case. While entertainment PR is a specific niche that deals with big names and studios, the rest of the PR industry does not. For example, brand and product representation is where PR professionals have to put their creativity to the forefront and challenge themselves as publicists. A publicist’s job is often to sell an idea to members of the media. They have to convince journalists that it’s a story worth covering. 

Hollywood also portrays PR professionals as having the ability to magically make bad press go away. For instance, Succession makes it seem like you can simply snap your fingers and make bad press disappear, which is not how it works in real life. In fact, dealing with bad press is one of the most challenging aspects of the job, and PR professionals need to be strategic and proactive to mitigate the negative impact. This is true for both small companies and large mega-corporations, like the one portrayed in Succession

So basically what we’re trying to say here is that Hollywood often gets things wrong about PR. The reality is often quite a bit more mundane than what is portrayed in movies and TV shows. While it may be entertaining to watch these fictional representations, it’s important to remember that PR is a real profession with real challenges and that the job requires skill, creativity, and hard work to succeed. 

That means if you’re hiring a PR firm, you should know what kind of PR they specialize in rather than expect all firms to be like the ones you see on screen. Or all situations to be like the ones written into Hollywood scripts. It brings me back to my Kate Foster comment. Kate Foster PR in Workin’ Moms isn’t that unlike Orca Communications, except our publicists spend far less time hanging out in the park with our friends and our client’s goals are often way more complicated to achieve.