PR practitioners depicted in fiction since 1995.
“Darling, she does a lot more than planning parties. She chit chats with club owners and trades on gossip about other people’s clients to the columnists so they’ll write good things about her own clients and sends gifts to celebrities to convince them to attend her events so the press will as well- all the while looking very pretty when she goes out every night.” (Weisberger, 2005: 57) This is a fictional journalist in ‘Everybody Worth Knowing’ explaining the career of a pr practitioner. This pr is depicted as an event and celebrity specialist, but one who encourages social networking in a physical sense. The whole agency is in the big name clubs of Manhattan every night, not leaving until after three am and expected back in the office. They are shown as being very knowledgeable about their topic and incredible stamina on such little sleep as they all go to morning meetings every day. But their personalities are left questionable.
Weisberger’s views of the media are shown as early in the book as page 58, with the same above journalist saying “I’ll give you 24 hours to debate the pros and cons of accepting a job where you can party for a living.” The phrase itself has the tone of ‘of course you will accept’ as it seems so good, but this is said by another media professional. The real tone behind it was more sinister, for the reader could assume that this ‘career’ has no seriousness attached to it, that it is just another institution whereby money is given to be squandered by an individual for pleasure with no real hard work attached to it.
The book itself relays again and again how good the main character, Bette, is a fantastic writer, slipping in how she got awards and how her writing was praised by many people and this is why she is offered the job as a PR. Yet she never utilises this talent, she is only ‘seen’ going to more parties and complaining about the amount. It is as though Weisberger wants the reader to dislike marketing social events. She gives Bette mini parties with a book club as well which is written with a lot of humour and compassion, but the bigger more agency related parties were always described with debauchery antics. Everyone who attended these parties were drug addicts, and so were so often acting immorally under the influence, they had no reservations against what most people would blush at the thought of.
The main character also becomes estranged from her friends so that she can socialise with people she doesn’t know, to help better the agency. This denotes that a pr practitioner is quite false as they don’t really have a true friend around them, they are out doing a job at these parties and do not care as long as they get press coverage which means more money to go to more parties. It became a monotonous circle in the book; even the reader became bored of the parties but was captured by the sense of disaster that looms with each turn of the page.
Continuing with the concept of falseness, it is reiterated quite obviously by Kelly, the owner of the pr agency in the book; “Bette, honey, I don’t care if it’s not true, I just care that it’s being covered...” (Weisberger, 2005: 133). It is as though a pr is untrustworthy because their job is to become trustworthy. They just want to be in the media, they do not ‘care’ about the reasons, as long as it isn’t bad. That specific use of the phrase ‘I don’t care’ by the manager leaves the reader with the idea that pr only do half a job. Even though the agency is successful, the reader does not seem to connect nor be impressed as the people within are just so unlikeable, especially when they are out trying to be liked. It is not a good book for a pr.
However, just the tagline to the film ‘Thank you for smoking’ negates Weisberger’s ‘false’ views, stating “don’t hide the truth... just filter it.” Meaning that PR practitioners, or ‘lobbyists’ as the film calls them, do actually deal with truth, but they spin it to make it sound good for whatever campaign or company they are representing.
‘Thank you for smoking’ really illustrates how dangerous a pr career can be. A pr practitioner can sometimes become the face of the company, they are the spokesperson and they are who everyone turns to. Therefore fictional pr tends be made from strong characters when they reach the top, it is the people who can easily bluff and talk their way out of problems, it was seen in both the film and Weisberger used it to when Bette could have a conversation with anyone without really paying attention, she was just talented at being able to reply when she needed to make it look like she was giving full attention.
“Everyone needs to pay the mortgage,” says Nick Naylor (Played by Aaron Eckhart in Thank you for smoking) when challenged as to why he is a pr for a tobacco company, therefore naturally hated by many. He is good at his job and it gets him the money he needs, just like any other job, even if the morals are, like in Weisberger’s novel, questionable.
There is one practitioner who has innocent reasoning in fiction, and does pr campaigns for the good of society and his fellow man. In ‘Hancock’, starring Will Smith, the pr Ray Embrey says to Hancock “People should love you. They really should, okay? And I want to deliver that for you. It's the least that I can do. You're a superhero. Kids should be running up to you, asking for your autograph, people should be cheering you on the streets...” Ray literally is in the job to help society feel better, to boost morale. He is depicted as very war time pr when the government needed to send out messages to make society feel safe and keep people happy enough to survive through the war.
In conclusion, pr practitioners are depicted mostly as people with a talent for words just working another job but do it celebrated in the media. They talk to people and they get to know people, even if it is just making acquaintances rather than real friendships. It also seeps into their personal lives, it is very much a career that covers your life for 24/7 and the practitioner used for analogy tends to be a strong character that can cope with the pressures of the workload, but of course the plot of a fiction would be difficult and complicated to overcome so there is some extremist scenarios you have to overlook for a representation of the character.
Hancock, 2008. [Film] Directed by Peter Berg. USA: Columbia Pictures.
Thank-you for smoking, 2005. [Film] Directed by Jason Reitman. USA: 20th Century Fox.
Weisberger, Lauren. Everyone Worth Knowing. 2005. Harper Collins: London.