This article originally appeared on PR Daily in December of 2017. Being both a movie junkie and a PR junkie, I absolutely love movies and TV shows that focus on my industry.
With that in mind and as people start queuing up their Netflix for holiday vacations, here is a list of what to watch for PR pros:
Watching the entire series of “The West Wing” is like getting a master’s degree in PR.
Granted, the show was on the air just as the internet was coming into its own and it occurs before the advent of social media, so there are great lines like, “the story is on the internet right now; it will break in wide circulation tomorrow,” or, plot lines around the fact that you dump stories you don’t want anyone to see on Fridays because “nobody watches the news on Friday night.”
Remember the days when you could truly control the news cycle?
As outdated as those moments may be, the show centers around the White House’s communications staff, so every story spotlights how to charm and disarm the media, how to communicate and stay on message or otherwise shape public opinion through media relations.
Written almost entirely by my favorite screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, if you want to see how it was done back in the day and hone your strategic PR instincts, “The West Wing” is the way to go.
“Thank You for Smoking” is an entertaining movie that centers around a tobacco lobbyist, Nick Naylor, who has mastered the art of spin. Throughout the film, he consistently and creatively presents the tobacco industry’s case on talk shows, in interviews and in the courtroom.
His explanation of the idea that if your point correctly, you’re never wrong truly demonstrates how language can change minds or even just change the conversation enough to make your message effective. It also concludes with the greatest line ever to describe PR: “Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk.Everyone has a talent.”
While this show plays PR for pure comedy, it does beautifully highlight the power of public perception.
In the show, you see Deputy Parks Director Leslie Knope lead PR efforts ranging from an online public poll for a new town slogan (including write-in submissions gone wrong) to crisis response after a private tweet is shared publicly. Leslie also works her media relations game, promoting community events with local media outlets and roguish media figures like TV personality Joan Callamezzo, radio muppets Crazy Ira and The Douche and a subdued local NPR host.
But, my favorite moment can be found in the episode where Leslie and her parks pals are trying to convince a high-tech company to donate land in one part of town and also revitalize several city blocks in another part of town for their HQ.
In that scene, Leslie and her boss, Ron Swanson ponder what on earth could persuade the company to do such a thing and their answer is: PR. After demonstrating the good publicity the move would generate, the tech company agrees. Hidden in the comedy are some surprisingly great strategic gems.
In this film, Robert De Niro plays a PR strategist who teams up with a narcissistic Hollywood producer, played by Dustin Hoffman, to distract the public so they forget all about the President’s sex scandal before the election. Like “The West Wing,” some of the tactics will come off as a bit dated as the movie was produced in 1996 and released the next year.
Plus, of course, a good PR pro would never engage in such ridiculous lies and deception (hopefully).
Nonetheless, the overall strategic discussions and the packaging of the news stories are sure to spark your creative juices as you develop that next pitch and proposal. Particularly fun is how Hoffman’s character views their efforts as Act One and Act Two of a movie.
In a sense, that’s what PR pros do. For example, the product’s BETA launch could be viewed as Act One and the full-scale release could be Act Two. Act Three, of course, would be measuring the key performance indicators (KPIs) and success metrics presented at the end of the campaign.
Another Aaron Sorkin gem, The Newsroom is not about PR pros, but rather turns the camera’s lens to the producers and reporters who strive to keep the public informed.
The series begins with Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, creating his own PR blunder when he delivers a speech on a college campus about how America isn’t the great nation it used to be. McAvoy is a popular, non-controversial anchor of the nightly news, so his speech is immediately captured and shared online, leaving him to decide whether he wants to continue to toe the line or to really start calling it like he sees it through his position as anchorman. His battles with the network’s owner—beautifully portrayed by Jane Fonda—also give insight into some of the challenges today’s media face in light of various political and corporate interests.
So, set your Netflix and Hulu queues up and enjoy some fun PR talk over your holiday break. What are your favorite PR-inspired movies and TV shows, PR Daily readers?
Jennifer Jones-Mitchell has been at the center of digital communications since the mid-90s and is currently President of Brandware PR. A version of this article originally appeared on the Brandware blog.