Interest in the myriad depictions of public relations in popular culture has grown exponentially since Karen Russell Miller, Ph.D. published the classic research study, Public Relations in Film and Fiction: 1930-1995 in the Journal of Public Relations Research (1999). Scholars have approached the study of public relations in popular culture from a variety of epistemological standpoints, leading naturally to various methodological choices. Others have employed a pedagogical approach—using popular culture to explain public relations concepts in the classroom. Each publication adds to the scholarly body of knowledge about the phenomenon of public relations in popular culture.
Some scholars have investigated representations of public relations in specific media texts. Their work has included Promoting the Vampire Rights Amendment: Public Relations, Postfeminism and True Blood, (Fitch, 2015, Public Relations Review); a special issue of The Black Scholar on Scandal [Scandalicious: Scandal, Social Media, and Shonda Rhimes’ Auteurist Juggernaut, (Everett, 2015); Shonda Rhimes, Scandal, and the Politics of Crossing Over (Erigha, 2015); Trope & Associates: Olivia Pope’s Scandalous Blackness (Pixley, 2015); If Loving Olitz is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right: ABC’s Scandal and the Affect of Black Female Desire (Warner, 2015); The Sound of Scandal: Crisis Management and the Musical Mediation of Racial Desire (Monk-Payton, 2015)] and Using the West Wing for Problem-Based Learning in Public Relations Courses, (Smudge & Luecke, 2005, Communication Teacher).
Other scholars have explored public relations occupations represented in popular culture. Their work include Feminization of the Film? Occupational Roles of Public Relations Characters in Movies (Lambert & White, 2012, Public Relations Journal); Popular Culture’s Image of the PR Image Consultant: The Celebrity in Crisis (Ames, 2012, The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture Journal), and The Image of the Government Flack: Movie Depictions of Public Relations in Public Administration (Lee, 2001, Public Relations Review) and follow-up Flicks of Government Flacks: The Sequel (Lee, 2009, Public Relations Review).
Gendered depictions of public relations in popular culture have also garnered research interest. Girls on Screen: How Film and Television Depict Women in Public Relations (Johnston, 2010, PRism Online PR Journal) focuses on portrayals of the public relations industry, while Young Women and Consumer Culture (McRobbie, 2008, Cultural Studies) takes a broader view, including public relations representations in a broader study.
Although television characters were analyzed in Learning about Public Relations from Television: How is the Profession Portrayed? (Yoon, & Black, 2011, Communication Science), film has been the context of choice for several scholars. Their work includes Cinema Spin: Exploring Film Depictions of Public Relations Practitioners (Lambert, 2011, Communication Teacher); PR Goes to the Movies: The Image of Public Relations Improves From 1996 to 2008 (Ames, 2010, Public Relations Review); Public Relations and Hollywood: A Fistful of Publicity (Tilson, 2003, Public Relations Quarterly), and Public Relations on Screen: 17 Films to see (Tavcar, 1993, Public Relations Quarterly).
Movies and television depictions took center stage in the ambitious meta-analysis The Image of the Public Relations Practitioner in Movies and Television, 1901-2011 (Saltzman, 2012, The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture Journal).