10 ways popular culture wrongly depicts the PR industry

By Benjamin Haslem

Interesting piece by Kayla Matthews on PR Daily about how the PR industry is portrayed in popular culture.

This depiction may feed into journalists' perception of the industry, though obviously the media's own regular interaction with PR professionals colours its view.

Many of my former journalist colleagues think we spend most of our days writing media releases and phoning journalists. Why wouldn't they; that forms the bulk of their experience interfacing with PR professionals.

While this may be true if you're an in-house media manager or politician's press secretary, the craft of PR is far more complicated than that.


Communicating with stakeholders (any person who has a stake in an issue, event, policy etc that you are dealing with) involves numerous channels, be it via the media; through social media; newsletters; e-mail; snail mail; websites; conferences; community meetings; focus groups; personal phone calls; F2F calls, so on and so forth.

Before even communicating, it is necessary to analyse each stakeholder and stakeholder group:

  • What is their interest in what our client is doing?
  • What is their expectation? How do they think they should be treated?
  • What is their level of influence over other stakeholders?
  • What is tactically the best way to engage with them?

Once you've figured that out, you can start thinking about the actual act of communicating.

Not exactly how it's portrayed in popular culture.

But then the portrayal of the media suffers from the same fate.

Based on my 10 years working in three newspaper newsrooms, I'd nominate just two instances I've seen where a newspaper has been accurately portrayed in popular culture:

  • The (semi-fictional Baltimore) Sun in David Simon's extraordinary The Wire (below); and 
  • The (fictional) New York Sun in Ron Howard's terrific The Paper.

Here's Kayla Matthews list, which she expands on in her post:

  1. PR is an all-girls club
  2. PR is fluffy
  3. PR professionals are style icons
  4. PR is all about schmoozing
  5. PR is all about lying and spinning the truth
  6. PR professionals only work in fashion and entertainment
  7. PR professionals must look perfect
  8. PR is made up of only young professionals
  9. All PR jobs are luxurious
  10. PR professionals aren't business-minded