By Gary Young, Gary Young Ink
Hollywood film star Tony Curtis passed away recently after a long and illustrious career. With a filmography that included such great movies as Some Like It Hot and The Defiant Ones, his work in Sweet Smell of Success has always been top of mind for me.
In that film, Mr. Curtis played Sidney Falco, an unscrupulous press agent who would do anything to curry favor with the all-powerful columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). “Sweet Smell of Success,” like so many other films before and after it, casts public relations professionals in a starkly unflattering light.
For as long as I can remember, I have had to reconcile my love of Hollywood with Hollywood’s lack of love for my profession.
From cover-up kings to propagandists (think The China Syndrome, Wag the Dog or Thank You For Smoking), from opportunists to sycophantic buffoons (think Hancock, Bridget Jones, or For Your Consideration), the PR profession has taken hit after hit in the movies.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been strong depictions of savvy PR professionals. Most recently, Kim Cattrall’s portrayal of successful PR woman, Samantha Jones (Sex and the City), casts a much more favorable spotlight on our profession – albeit in a high gloss, all-too-fabulous one.
That’s also not to say there aren’t cover-up kings, propagandists, opportunists, and sycophantic buffoons. Like any profession, we have them.
But, on whole, I’ve found most PR practitioners to be among the most grounded, strategic, creative and empathetic people around. For every manipulative opportunist, you’ll find thousands of community-minded professionals who are donating their time to help a worthy cause. For every sycophantic bumbler, you find countless decisive communications counselors who work tirelessly to represent their clients’ brands accurately and positively.
So much of what we do is simply trying to get the right message out to the right people at the right time. Understandably, in the wrong hands, this can be viewed as invasive or manipulative. Clearly, we in the PR profession have some reputation management to do – especially cinematically.
Success can be its own reward, of course. And, if we continue to deliver tangible, worthwhile and positive results, we just might be able to change Hollywood’s perception of us. Then again, that’s not exactly the stuff of a blockbuster movies.
Post Script: I just thought of another positive depiction of public relations. In The Jerk, a clearly excited Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) exclaims, “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!” After being dismissed for being excited over nothing, he replies, “Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 – Johnson, Navin R.! I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity – your name in print – that makes people. I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.”
You’ve got to love the power of positive PR thinking.