TV shows have created an image of public relations that is exaggerated. In a lot of my classes we talk about what we would like to do after graduation and the majority of students say PR. Many have not interned in the field yet and their reasoning for wanting to work in PR is because it seems fun, or they like attending events or the expected glamour. This always makes me think of Heidi Montag on The Hills, working for an event planning firm and inviting her friends to hang out at exclusive parties. What isn’t shown in these episodes is the intense preparation it takes to produce an event and the realistic yet unglamorous tasks that must be taken care of such as licking envelopes or sending out invitations.
I am a fan of the show Scandal and its lead, Olivia Pope, who is the “fixer.” Pope is savvy, resourceful and determined, essential characteristics for any PR professional. This show however is concentrated on crisis management and while entertaining, I think it’s probable that many crisis management people are dealing with things like inappropriate tweets instead of cleaning up dead bodies.
Highlighting exciting aspects of public relations has become popular on television, but I have yet to see a show that portrays a broader picture of the industry showing publicists at their desks sending out pitches for various clients. This may not make great TV, but is essential to getting your client on TV.
So, what is it really like to work in public relations? Here are my top three TV realities versus real world realities.
TV Reality: Events are an opportunity to have fun and hang out.
Real world reality: Events always have a clear purpose and many people involved. There are vendors, attendees and possibly volunteers. It is important to stay mobile and check on all aspects of the event to avoid unwanted situations. Inviting friends and partying on the job is not a good way to keep a job or run a successful event.
TV Reality: Boring tasks do not matter.
Real world reality: Boring is a matter of opinion and if I have learned anything it is no task is below someone. If you need to lick 1,000 envelopes by tomorrow then it needs to be done. PR people are the most resourceful and don’t give tasks that do not have a purpose. If those invitations get people to attend that is what matters.
TV Reality: You can run around a city in the most fabulous outfit and heels and stay put together.
Real world reality: I love Scandal for its drama and fashion, but some of the things Olivia Pope wears are very unrealistic. I do not know how she runs around Washington D.C. in all white and five inch heels without getting anything on her. If heels are ideal then always have a pair of flats, because time matters more than the height of your heel.