I came across the idea for this blog whilst beginning to binge watch the fourth season of “Mad Men” on Netflix, in which the pilot episode of that season is conveniently enough named “Public Relations”. Although fictional, I realised how many great examples of public relations there are in Film and TV.
Starting in the 1960’s, on Madison Avenue, ‘Mad Men’ explores the advertising agency Sterling Cooper and follows the professional and personal lives of it’s employees. Throughout the seven series TV show we come across several excellent public relation related examples.
LUCKY STRIKE – UNDERSTANDING DEMOGRAPHICS
The pilot episode focuses on the team at Sterling Cooper having to create a new campaign for their long serving cigarette clients ‘Lucky Strike’. However, new information has just arisen at the time stating how harmful smoking and tobacco is. Don, the creative director, and his team find a way to create a campaign that doesn’t shy away from the truth of the product but instead focuses on the toasting process while steal appealing to the products demographics. The tag line for the campaign read “Lucky Strike. It’s Toasted”. At the time, it was still the older generation that were smoking, and they didn’t particularly care for the new information regarding the health risks. The 60’s also saw a rise in woman smoking as it was seen as ‘liberating’. Throughout the series, Sterling Cooper always displays a great understanding of their demographic and the importance of knowing it, a key lesson for PR practitioners.
ADDING A TELEVISION DEPARTMENT – GET WITH THE TIMES
Sterling Cooper were constantly staying on top of trends in the 1960’s, they added a television and media department at a time where it was relatively uncommon and new. This became one of the agencies defining moments as it brought a new sense of creativity to their campaigns. They knew to remain competitive within the growing ad industry that they had to stay on top of trends. This is even more relative now with the continuous emergence of new technologies and forms of social media. PR practitioners can take a page out of Sterling Coopers book by keeping up with the emerging trends so they can stay competitive and remain on top.
SUGARBERRY HAM – HAVE A CRISIS SITUATION PLAN
When an account executive and a member of the creative team come up with a publicity stunt for their client ‘Sugarberry Ham’ who are struggling for sales they are quickly met with a crisis. Although the publicity stunt, which involved two woman publicly fighting over a ham in a supermarket, created widespread buzz and increased sales for the client they were hit with the cost of posting bail for one of the woman who was eventually arrested for the stunt, and then further hush money so they would keep quiet surrounding the issue. Crisis situation plans should be thought of in advance on the off chance a campaign goes wrong. In a similar situation on the show, an American airlines jet crashed and the creative director of the agency ordered them to pull their client ‘Mohawk Airlines’ campaigns in order to prevent a reputational crisis by association. Its even more important now for crisis situation plans with the continued rise of social media, many companies and brands have faced backlash over ill advised tweets or posts. Having one of these may prevent even further backlash and damage to the brands image.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK – PROTECT YOUR IMAGE
‘The Social Network’ tells the complicated story of Mark Zuckerberg and his road to creating Facebook. We come upon several PR related examples but one of the more prominent ones was the animal cruelty story which was posted in the ‘Crimson’ newspaper regarding his business partner and best friend Edwardo Saverin. In the article it had named Saverin as the co-founder of Facebook, Zuckerberg didn’t care at all other than the fact it had listed him as this hence the possibility of dragging the companies name through the mud. A similar situation arose with Facebook’s first president Sean Parker, he was arrested for possession of cocaine at a party in the film and after pressure from Zuckerberg and board members, he resigned to avoid any backlash for the company. Nowadays in reality, its even easier for companies and individuals to come under fire with the progression of social media. Comments made on Twitter or Facebook years ago are continually brought back up and have caused a number of high profile people to be ‘cancelled’.
THE GOLDEN TICKET – MARKETING BUZZ
Willy Wonka looks to find a successor to his empire in the latest rendition of ‘Charlie & The Chocolate Factory’. The Golden Ticket stunt creates widespread positive publicity for his brand with every man woman and child hoping to unwrap one. Similar stunts like these are still very valuable and common for PR practitioners to use.
THE QUEEN – MORE CRISIS MANAGEMENT
After Princess Diana’s death in 1997, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Royal Family have disagreements on how her death should be addressed to the public. Blair tries to convince Queen Elizabeth to make an affectionate statement regarding the death of her grandchildren’s mother whilst the Royal Family insist on distancing themselves form the situation after the scandal of Diana an Prince Charles’ divorce. This is a great example of what to do to avoid a PR crisis.
Eoghan Gilmore is a final year Bsc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found at: Instagram – eoghangilmore , LinkedIn – https://ie.linkedin.com/in/eoghan-gilmore-106a89164