A 'Scandal' in Public Relations

Public Relations Professor co-authors book chapter about public relations portrayal in popular culture

Flashy campaigns, high-end parties and behind the scenes manipulation. Hollywood depicts public relations as almost magical, but is that reality?

Cheryl Ann Lambert, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, explored how public relations is portrayed in popular culture in her new book chapter titled “Public Relations Representations in Popular Culture: A ‘Scandal’ on Primetime Television.” The chapter is part of a collaborative book, “Communication Perspectives on Popular Culture.” Lambert and her two colleagues, Jessalynn Strauss, Ph.D., from Elon University and Natalie T.J. Tindall, Ph.D., from Lamar University co-authored the chapter with Lambert as the lead author.

“The three of us ended up doing the project because our specific research areas tied nicely together,” Lambert said.

Tindal’s expertise was in women in public relations, Strauss’ in entertainment and amusement in public relations and Lambert’s in public relations’ representation in contemporary and historical contexts. Lambert previously has published works that have analyzed public relations in news media, popular culture and war-time propaganda.

Within the chapter, Lambert and her colleagues wrote a comparison and contrast between Olivia Pope from ABC’s “Scandal” and Ray from Showtime’s “Ray Donovan.” Both characters are public relations professionals. While both call themselves “fixers,” Lambert said they fix their clients’ problems in very different ways.

“They are almost the inverse of each other,” Lambert said. “Olivia Pope is a public relations professional doing criminal things, and Ray Donovan is a criminal doing public relations things.”

Lambert said that in “Scandal,” “Ray Donovan” and other productions, public relations is shown as a high paying, secretive and unethical profession.

“In popular culture, it’s a lot less work, a lot less research and a lot more fun,” Lambert said. “There’s very little about the day to day grind.”

Television shows are, however, becoming more accurate as “Scandal” is one of the first shows to have a public relations professional as its main character and shows a week by week depiction of the main character, Olivia Pope’s, life. Still, Lambert said public relations is mainly exaggerated and fantasized in pop culture and television shows.

“I don’t believe these media depictions are as harmful as some may think. Most of them are harmless fun and don’t make things necessarily worse for us,” Lambert said. “What the TV shows do and what the book chapters do really informs our view of the real world.”

POSTED: Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 9:26am
UPDATED: Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 9:28am
Haley Keding, '17