Who You Gonna Call? Ghostbusters!

If you saw the 2016 revival of Ghostbusters, you witnessed an all-female lead that captured the popular culture imagination. In addition to rebooting the team of supernatural crime-fighters, the film introduces a new Mayor’s Assistant who functions the way a chief of public affairs might in the off-screen world.

In the reboot, Jennifer Lynch (Cecily Strong) is the Mayor’s Assistant. When viewers first meet her, she is chastising the Ghostbusters for, er, busting ghosts in public. Turns out Homeland Security has been studying the uptick in unexplained phenomena. In order to avoid mass hysteria, Jennifer will publicly denounce—but privately support—the Ghostbusters. She stages an on-camera arrest of the Ghostbusters (a stunt for visual effect) and calls them frauds. By the time the film concludes, though, Jennifer congratulates them for protecting the city and extends funding from the Mayor for their continued work.

The original iteration of the Mayor’s Assistant appears in Ghostbusters 2, the 1989 sequel to the first film. Like Jennifer, Jack Hardemeyer (Kurt Fuller) calls the Ghostbusters frauds and publicity hounds. Unlike Jennifer; however, he is not faking animosity. He files a restraining order against the Ghostbusters to block their access to the Mayor. His reason? Protecting the Mayor’s reputation while he is running for Governor. Jack panics when he overhears the Ghostbusters discuss contacting the press about a surge in paranormal activity. Unbeknownst to the Mayor, Jack has the team committed to a psychiatric hospital. Later, his inability to contain citywide panic necessitates a call to the supernatural crime-fighters. Once the Mayor finds out Jack had the Ghostbusters falsely committed, he fires him.

As public relations characters, Jennifer Lynch and Jack Hardemeyer perform their respective roles in vastly different ways. Below are three functions viewers see:

Client Relations: Client Relations involves establishing and maintaining client trust through ongoing communication, understanding the mission of the client, and selecting appropriate audience to achieve their goals, according to Joan Daly. Public relations professionals must adequately evaluate client needs in order to manage their expectations. Thanks to behind-the-scenes support from the Mayor’s office, the Ghostbusters become a de facto client for Jennifer. Garnering their trust will likely take a while, though. (She calls them “sad and lonely women” during an on-air interview.)

Impression Management: Lynn Sallot defined Impression Management as regulating or controlling information and behavior to ensure consistency between public perceptions and constructed identity. It is essential to the work of public relations professionals. Jennifer seeks to maintain the impression that the city is functioning well. Jack seeks to maintain the impression that the Mayor is governing well. Unfortunately, Jack’s heavy-handed approach puts millions of lives in jeopardy.

Media Relations: Media Relations encompasses researching topics for complete understanding, seeking out media who haven’t covered the topic, and tailoring pitches accordingly, says Andrew Grossman. Public relations professionals must foster connections with the media in order to facilitate client coverage. The cameras and microphones recording Jennifer’s public statements suggest she has established some valuable media connections. The same can’t be said for Jack, though. His outsized reaction to a potential news story suggests deep-seated media mistrust.

These fictional public relations characters offer an important reminder about the multiple publics that real-life industry professionals serve. They also reveal the interrelationship between those publics—and the dangers of neglecting one for the sake of another.

—Cheryl Ann Lambert, Ph.D.

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