The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day are probably the best time of the year for PR pros to regroup, relax and ruminate on what’s in store for the next few months. As many communicators take some time off (and the thermostat heads south) we thought it was a good time to recommend some of the best PR movies.
> The Harder They Fall (1956): In his last performance, Humphrey Bogart plays a downsized newspaper reporter (Eddie Willis) who becomes a PR agent for the boxing profession. Eddie plays fast and loose with the truth and is not above some questionable means to justify the ends. It’s a decidedly hoary portrayal of public relations. But the film also shows that doing the right thing is indigenous to the PR profession (or at least should be).
> Sweet Smell of Success (1957): Before the Web, before digital PR and way before charts and graphs and assorted tables professing to show PR measurement, there was the press agent, deliciously (or devilishly, depending on whom you ask) embodied by Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). The film follows Falco’s tireless efforts to get his clients mentioned by all-powerful columnist, J.J. Hunsecker (who was modeled after Walter Winchell). The film is a tutorial on the relationship between PR pros and journalists, and each side constantly has an angle. The script, by Alexander Mackendrick, is searing, the performances are magical, and the location shots of old New York are dreamlike.
> Wag the Dog (1997): A pitch-black comedy, with media manipulation as the gooey center. When the President of the United States is caught in an uncompromising position, Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), a top-notch spin doctor, is brought in to change the narrative. He changes the narrative alright, producing a fake war with Armenia or, as Brean puts it, a “pageant.” We’ll leave it to you to decide whether the film is satirical, or not.
> Phone Booth (2003): Colin Farrell plays an arrogant New York City publicist (Stu Shepard) who is held hostage in a telephone booth by a sniper. Thinking that his number may be up, Shepard begins to confess that everything he does is a lie to make himself look better. It’s a fairly cartoonish portrayal of PR (which is what makes it so much fun) and a cautionary tale on how not to behave if you want to succeed in the communications field.
Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1