She loves pink, sparkles and planning tea parties for her dolls. She insists on wearing dresses and high heels on the coldest of winter days. According to her mother, four-year-old Zoey is destined for a career in public relations.
While Zoey and her mother are fictional characters, thanks to pop culture this misconception of public relations is far too real. For years public relations has been the go-to career choice for glamorous, ditzy, promiscuous, fictional characters in network television. Romy Fröhlich and Sonja Peters dubbed characters such as Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones “PR Bunnies” in their 2007 article PR Bunnies Caught in the Agency Ghetto? Gender Stereotypes, Organizational Factors, and Women’s Careers in PR Agencies. PR Bunnies are often depicted as party planners, coffee fetchers or simply to be doing nothing at all. The effects have been damaging to the reputation of the public relations profession.
The production of CTV’s Spun Out ignited hope in the public relations industry. We hoped to finally receive our long-awaited honest representation in pop culture. We had seen plenty successful workplace based shows shed light on a plethora of other professions in the past. It was finally our turn.
With a full cast of public relations professionals they couldn’t possibly all be glamorous, ditzy or promiscuous, party planners, could they? If the show is based in an office we would obviously see them do a decent amount of work, right?
If you have yet to see the show you may be wondering, “what did the producers of Spun Out do so terribly wrong?”
It gives the impression that public relations practitioners never work. Between the first two episodes, the characters appear to be working for less than two minutes. Not to mention the quality of this so called “work.” The main character, Beckett Ryan, suggests that a client change the back-up alert on his trucks to music. For some reason the client thinks the idea is brilliant. The outcome is as terrible as one would expect. The rest of the time in the office is spent socializing, relaxing in a bathtub or eavesdropping on the boss and his ex-wife.
Every single character makes at least one outrageously dumb comment. We get that it’s a comedy. But it is possible for smart and funny to coexist. Just take a look at the Big Bang Theory. It is clear the boss’s daughter Stephanie is meant to be Spun Out‘s version of the Big Bang’s Penny. Stephanie cheers, “score Stephanie!” after every minimal personal achievement. Thus far, it is generous to call her achievements minimal. It is noticeable however, that there is barely a contrast between Stephanie and the rest of the show’s characters. Is even one smart public relations practitioner really too far-fetched for television?
The office has a striking resemblance to a preschool. Between the rainbow colours and mix of geometric shapes, the office has a juvenile feel. Not to mention Beckett Ryan awkwardly clinging to a lunch box or the executive assistant wearing a fanny pack. And how could we forget Stephanie’s doodling.
It reaffirms common public relations stereotypes. Before rehiring Beckett Ryan, the boss, Dave Lyons, tests his ability to spin a number of negative terms into positives. Most notably Beckett spins “arsonist” to “someone who brings warmth to others.” A public relations professional might laugh at the sarcasm here. However, most people do not study public relations. Therefore, given the lack of public relations work being done on the show this “joke” is likely to further the stereotype that public relations practitioners are unethical spin-doctors.
It is time that we, public relations students and professionals, take a stand. If producers are going to turn a profit exploiting our profession, we should have a say in how we are represented. Just as Grey’s Anatomy has medical consultants on its on-set to ensure accuracy, Spun Out should have PR professionals as on-set consultants. As professionals, we also deserve the opportunity to defend our image.
Sorry Zoey, but you’re going to have to keep looking to find a career looking pretty and planning parties.