PRoblem Solvers: How Television Portrays Public Relations

I want you to think of a television portrayal of public relations. I’ll give you a second to think. Who came to mind? Was it political fixer and coat-aficionado Olivia Pope on Scandal? The outspoken and promiscuous Samantha Jones on Sex and the City? Or maybe it was the young and ambitious Kat Edison on The Bold Type. Whoever it may be, TV paints a picture of PR that is not always accurate. I’m here to dispel some common misconceptions relating to the field of public relations

Inspired by renowned crisis-manager and former deputy White House Press Secretary, Judy Smith, Olivia Pope is a saving grace for anyone needing a problem to go away quickly.

Olivia’s poise and ability to tackle cases almost as messy as her personal life, especially in the early episodes of Scandal, leaves the viewer in awe. However, the majority of her work is highly dramatized. Olivia Pope is a fictionalized “spinmeister.” Spin is a form of propaganda using biased interpretations of situations or events in order to sway public opinion in favor of particular person or organization. In addition, Olivia’s work walks a fine fine ethical and legal line, including covering up murders to ensure the preservation of her clients’ reputation. Although, one thing we can all learn from Olivia Pope is the vitality of strong communication. Olivia is a expert of knowing what she wants to accomplish and choosing the appropriate language to achieve those goals.


The second myth we’re going to tackle is the difference between public relations and publicity. While public relations encompasses every aspect of a client’s organization from research to development to implementation to evaluation and creating strong and lasting relationships with consumers, publicity relates more closely with acquiring press coverage and media attention. Publicists are perhaps the most widely depicted form of public relations professional. You all know who I’m talking about. The character constantly with a phone in hand, never making eye contact and quickly moving their client from talk show, to public appearance, to red carpet: Ari Gold from Entourage or Princess Carolyn from Bojack Horseman might have come to mind. But even then these roles don’t accurately portray publicists, but more so blur the lines between an agent and a publicist. The key difference is that agents are in charge of getting their clients in front of decision makers, while publicist are in charge of getting the right attention for their clients.


Finally, we’re going to address the notion that working in the public relations field is all flash. Samantha Jones is always meeting for drinks at the hottest Manhattan clubs or attending an extravagant event with a star-studded guest list. Samantha’s version of PR is very much all play and no work, which is simply not the case. Kat Edison from The Bold Type is a welcome change to this stereotype. Throughout the debut season of the show Kat is seen working on more realistic projects for a young PR professional, such as, developing social media campaigns, reaching out to influencers, and tracking social media analytics. The Bold Type does an exceptional job of showcasing positive and negative aspects of public relations in a realistic fashion and most importantly displays the fields ability to create change.

Television can be a great escape, but don’t let it overwhelm or mislead you. While your life as a PR professional may not be as glamorous as Samantha’s or exhilarating as Olivia’s, take pride in your work and your ability to developing meaningful relationships between your clients and the public.



This blog was brought to you by Jacob Sherer. Jacob is a junior strategic communication major with a social media certificate. Follow him on Twitter @JSherer13

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