Six of the best - PRs on screen
Posted by Paul Allen on 6th December 2011 / 2 comments
With Ab Fab set to return to TV screens this Christmas, I began thinking about how PRs and journalists are portrayed on screen. Journalists, on the whole, get a pretty easy time of it in films and TV. There are relatively few of your baby-eating, phone-hacking tabloid monsters, but there are plenty of righteous and principled truth-seekers, such as John Simm in State of Play and Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in All the President's Men.
PRs on the other hand are mostly portrayed on TV and in films as a fairly sorry and despicable bunch. I’m a freelance tech PR consultant and I couldn’t find any film or TV PRs quite that specific, but there are plenty of generalists.
Fighting the PR stereotype
Do people really hold PRs in such low regard or is it just film-makers that do? Given the recent misdemeanours of other professions – bankers, expense-fiddling MPs, phone-hacking tabloid journalists – PRs seem pretty harmless in the scheme of things. What’s a badly worded press release in the grand scheme of things?
Anyway these are my ‘six of the best’ film and TV PRs:
1) The god-like Jessica Hynes plays dead-eyed PR consultant Siobhan Sharpe in BBC Olympic spoof, Twenty Twelve and she surely must know people in PR, such is the brilliant accuracy of her portrayal. She is seen below spouting some of the best PR BS I’ve ever heard and I recognise with glee some of the mannerisms and expressions used to try and explain to her bemused client how an Olympic countdown clock actually works.
2) I’m not a major Jim Carrey fan – not his comedy films anyway – but did like this portrayal of Globodyne Corporation's VP of Communications in Fun with Dick and Jane. Particularly the scene below, where he is made to go front of camera by his CEO. Utterly stitched up and on-the-spot, a classic example of why PRs should remain behind the camera.
3) Colin Farrell’s character in Phone Booth is a publicist - cocky, shallow and about to cheat on his wife. A so-so thriller that sees him stuck in a phone box on the phone to a psychopath, it is notable as the psychopath only targets the dishonest and crooked. Previous victims included a paedophile and corrupt businessman - surely PRs don’t deserve to be keeping that kind of company, however superficial we might be?
4) The standout character in 2011’s Torchwood Miracle Day was undoubtedly Lauren Ambrose’s PR executive Jilly Kitzinger. Most PRs have clients that they would rather not work for - although today’s Independent story shows that perhaps others are not as fussy - but few of us would be so willing to embrace a convicted child murderer and paedophile. A good story sure - the murderer survived a death sentence - but to be so ruthless and almost entirely lacking in morals is quite something! You get a good sense of what she is about from this promo clip.
5) Edina – perhaps the most famous TV or film PR, certainly in the UK. Ab Fab had drinks, drugs, sex, celebrities and debauchery - you don’t get too much of that in the tech PR game – but I wonder if the forthcoming Christmas Ab Fab will still hit the spot? Even at the time it portrayed a PR industry that bore very little relation to most people’s experience of it and that will be even more so a few years on. Still, some very funny moments along the way - this one demonstrates how PRs stay on top of current affairs and the news agenda.
6) Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It and In the Loop is not your run-of-the-mill PR, more an Alistair Campbell-inspired (supposedly) comms director / spin doctor uberlord. Aggressive, bullying, arrogant, manipulative and domineering, he is everything that gives PRs a bad name. Funny as hell though. There is the *occasional* swearword in this clip.