This week a news report is circulating that a new television based around public relations may be in development. New York Magazine has reported Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, was developing a show for ABC centered on public-relations consultant Judy Smith. Smith has worked with such high profile clients as Bill Clinton, Michael Vick, and New York Governor David. As you might guess, she was called in to handle the crises for these and other clients. As the article noted, “now she’s mining the world of crisis management for a new show.” The article goes on to say “Per the logline we’ve heard, the currently untitled project (which some development trackers had been calling In Crisis) will revolve around the life and work of a professional fixer and her dysfunctional staff. Rhimes is writing the script for the pilot and will executive produce with her ABC Studios–based Shondaland production company.”(http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/11/shonda_rhimes_in_crisis_judy_s.html).
It would be great if this would be the first show to reveal to true working of public relations to the masses. The average person really has little idea what real public relations is about/involves. People generally know the negative stereotypes that are reported in movies, television, news reports, and even popular press public relations books. It is commonly assumed public relations is “spin” and the PR person’s job is to generate positive publicity and hide any possible negative information. Perhaps a public relations show that deals with crises might show how public relations people often try to disclose negative information as part of crisis communication and not hide the negatives. Of course many people often think that crisis management tries to hide negative information but the opposite is true. Of course doctors may not think Grey’s Anatomy is an accurate representation of what does on in a hospital so the hope may be misplaced. Still, it would be nice for a show using public relations beyond “spin” and “hype.”
This hope is based on past spin/publicity based shows that report to be showing the public relations industry. In recent years we have had PowerR Girls then this year’s SPINdustry (now The Spin Crowd). The greatest disappointment for these two “reality shows” is that they show people claiming to be practicing public relations. We see drama, vanity, and looking good as the primary job skill for public relations. We never hear or see mention of true knowledge and skill sets required for PR. If you wanted to see how shallow PR can be portrayed, visit The Spin Crowd web site: http://www.eonline.com/on/shows/spin_crowd/index.html . Apparently there are no special job skills for PR—anyone with looks can do it—and PR is about party planning and publicity.
Edward Bernays was not stranger to publicity. But he was very much about the strategy behind these tactics. The PR reality shows emphasize the mindless application of tactics with strategy rarely making an appearance. This might make for good television but it only serves to further erode the reputation of the public relations industry. So if the new show does appear and had actors in even one staff meeting where there talk about strategy, it will be a major step forward for PR portrayals on television. Grey’s Anatomy does show doctors operating and diagnosing patients. Maybe the PR people meet with clients and discuss how to solve their problems—show critical thinking skills. Perhaps even a strategy session where the practitioners discuss how to handle a crisis. They have strategy sessions in medical and legal shows so there is hope, however slim it maybe, for a fictional PR show to actually “show” strategy.
Questions to Consider
1. How fair is it that the media treats public relations as spin?
2. What is the harm for the field when public relations becomes equated with spin?
3. How does spin differ from publicity? Define both terms.
4. What are the ethical implications of spin?
5. Why does matter how television portrays public relations?
6. What are the dangers of spin approach to crisis communication?