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Don’t Listen to Samantha Jones

Published on Dec. 8 at 11:23a.m.
by Sydney Palmer.

If the average person were to describe what they thought a public relations job entailed, they would likely mention attending glamorous events with celebrities, posting on social media or having lots of free time. Those in the PR industry could tell them that the PR life is not all cocktails and galas, but why does the majority of the public think that it is? Two words: Samantha Jones.

Photo by MARIA BELÉN ARCHETTO via VogueMexico

Samantha Jones, a fictional character from the hit television show Sex and the City, is one of the most famous representations of the PR industry in television and movies. She is known for her designer wardrobe, her constant traveling for work and her inexhaustible client list. She is a very glamorous, albeit inaccurate, portrayal of an owner of a public relations firm. Never shown working, she instead spends her time drinking cocktails and mentioning her celebrity friends or the lavish parties she just threw for them.

The concept that public relations is a whirlwind of parties is actually named after Samantha Jones, titled The Samantha Syndrome. According to CP Communications, a PR firm in Sydney, Australia, The Samantha Syndrome refers to the way PR professionals are depicted in TV and movies. Why do these movie producers and directors not do their research and create characters with accurate portrayals of their jobs?

“If television portrayed the actual life of a public relations person like myself, nobody would watch it,” said Shelley Spector, founder of both the Museum of Public Relations and Spector & Associates. “It’s interesting. If they brought cameras into my office they would just see somebody typing all day. It’s far more interesting to portray somebody like Samantha Jones that is not what [PR] is.”

The reason viewers enjoy watching dramatization of jobs and real life is because it’s interesting. People watch TV and movies to get away from their day to day life, unfortunately not to watch the average life of a PR professional. Thus the perception of the PR industry is distorted. In fact, communications has even been referred to as the MRS Degree, a degree chosen by young women who attend university with the intention of finding a potential spouse, rather than to pursue academic achievement for their future career. The name stems from women being called “Mrs.” after marriage.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao via UnSplash

People unfamiliar with public relations often assume that PR professionals just post on social media or send emails all day. “If it’s just social media and all you have to do is post to Twitter, that seems very easy,” said Spector. “They’re not taking into account the full breadth of what public relations is meant to do, which is to build a reputation and to build and maintain a relationship with all the publics that a company has.”

In real life, there are multiple layers of behind-the-scenes requirements for events or campaigns to appear effortless.

“It’s glorified as this wonderful glamorous thing and that you get to go to games and you get paid for them and you get these premieres,” said Pamela Chvotkin, an adjunct professor in advertising and PR at The University of Alabama. “They don’t know the work that it takes … the hours, the manpower, the vendor who just canceled the hour before and you’re having to struggle to make sure you find a replacement in time. … There’s so many little nuances and there’s no spotlight on them.”

Often these TV and movie characters are idolized because they appear to have it all. “Samantha Jones is looked at as this badass [woman] that can do anything,” said Chvotkin. “Just give her literally any issue and she’ll figure it out … and in the real world, that’s just not the case.” The simplification in film of what PR actually is has led to students believing that PR is the easiest major. College Vine lists PR on the 10 easiest majors for undergraduate degrees.

One reason students consider PR an easy major is the idea that it only entails posting on social media. “A lot of kids who come into this profession, [they think] it is just about posting and it is not,” said Spector. “There’s a possibility that Twitter won’t be around much longer and then what happens?” With the mass layoffs, resignations and all around chaos at Twitter, the lifespan of social media platforms comes into question.

Photo by chrisdorney via Adobe Stock Images

Another example of an obsolete social media platform is MySpace. MySpace was launched in 2003 and quickly rose in popularity, but after being passed in total users by Facebook in 2008, the social media site flamed out. Today, the site is only used by about seven million people worldwide. That may sound like a lot, but compared to Facebook’s number of almost three million monthly users, MySpace is considered a dead platform.

Students under the impression that the PR industry simply consists of posting on social media will have a loud wakeup call when they enter the field. The solution to the misconception is simple: Someone needs to create a show with an accurate portrayal of public relations. Ironically, the best way to educate the public on the true nature of public relations may be returning to the scene of the crime. With television consistently supplying people across the world with entertainment, thus curating public perception on a myriad of issues, accurate portrayals on the big screen are crucial to adjust the concept of PR in the head of the common individual.

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