Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 14, 2013

Fed Up With Filmmakers Stereotypes of Public Relations?

Would it surprise you to learn that that public relations characters in film scored low on honesty yet high on being driven by profit?

My colleague, Candace White, Ph.D., and I weren’t surprised either when we conducted research investigating how movies with public relations characters measure up against real professionals.

While we’re all too familiar with the many stereotypes about practitioners, brought to life by characters like Samantha Jones, what really surprised us were the faulty assumptions we found about the industry as a whole.

In our study, we saw there were more male than female public relations characters. Female public relations characters were more likely to have social interactions than their male counterparts. Also, most of the characters were publicists or spokespersons.

These findings fly in the face of industry reality — nearly 70 percent of public relations practitioners are female; public relations is a profession and not a social service, and job opportunities extend far beyond publicists or spokespersons.

With these inaccurate portrayals, film-based stereotypes about public relations may limit student awareness of options in the industry, encourage social rather than professional skills, and facilitate unrealistic expectations about the gender makeup of public relations.

If you’re fed up with film stereotypes about public relations (and we know we are), here are four ways you can fight back:

  1. Tweet your teaching moment. Instead of bashing movies online, use social media to correct misconceptions. Make lighthearted comments through Twitter hashtags or blog posts about what it’s really like to work in public relations.
  2. Create some talking points. Create a Q&A on your website about the industry. You could reference them when media (or job prospects?!) ask about the stereotypes.
  3. Send feedback through official channels. Some images merit official channels of response. Immediately after stereotypical images appear, use an op-ed or letter to the editor to explain your concerns in a local newspaper, an entertainment trade magazine or a national publication.
  4. Keep a sense of humor. Make a satirical PSA video to counter some film images. When you post and share the video, you can simultaneously make fun of movies and correct false assumptions.
  5. Counter negative images in person. Visit high schools to participate in panels about the public relations industry. Or, sponsor job fairs with PRSSA Chapters to overcome stereotypes. While you’re there, direct the audience to accurate depictions of public relations.

You may not be able to change all the stereotypes about public relations, but at least you can add your voice to the discussion.

Cheryl Ann Lambert, Ph.D., will be speaking about Feminization of the Film? Occupational Roles of Public Relations Characters in Movies during The Best of PRSA’s Public Relations Journal” of 2012–2013 panel at the PRSA 2013 International Conference. She earned her doctorate in public relations at the University of Tennessee after working for seven years in corporate communications at Sears, Roebuck and Co. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from Temple University after working for Chilton Publishing Company. She has worked as an assistant professor at Boston University since fall 2008. Her academic research exploring representations of public relations and health has been informed by her practitioner and academic experience.

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