Learning about PR through film: Top 4 movies about Public Relations

This article is part of our series Watercooler Chat, where the SYNC PR team shares insights and opinions from their experience in the industry

Often when I tell people I work in “PR,” they give me a blank stare and I know exactly what they’re thinking: what the heck does that mean? I don’t blame them – as people who work in PR in Southeast Asia, we know all-too-well its many complexities and contradictions and can see how it’s difficult to define. 

So for those who may be confused, I’ve collated a list of films that depict PR at its best (and worst). Truth be told – this rich, messy industry does indeed make for good popcorn-viewing. 

And a quick disclaimer: while the films listed here might not be a hundred percent accurate in their depiction of our day-to-day, they would definitely give you a pretty good understanding of the industry. And are a hundred percent entertaining. Let’s dive. 

4.  Our Brand is Crisis (2015)

Synopsis: A once-revered political consultant (starring Sandra Bullock) is hired as the lead of a struggling campaign to help re-elect a controversial presidential candidate. 


Reason to watch: Besides the absurdity of pulling back the satirical curtain on political campaigns, this film is a good lesson on how to highlight a client’s strengths. 

Besides that, the film also showcases a common oversight present in today’s corporate culture: fuzzy brand messaging. Instead of focusing on listening and understanding the audience, and providing clarity via a cohesive marketing strategy, many brands are stuck in a constant state of ‘we’ve always done it that way’, hindering their potential for further success. 

So if you’d like to have a sneak peek into crisis management and what to do (or what not to do) when it comes to branding. This movie is definitely worth the watch.

On this note, if you’d like to engage in social listening for your brand, we have for you the Top 5 FREE social listening tools for 2021.

3. The Social Network 

Synopsis: The unauthorized origin story of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, The Social Network reveals the (alleged) controversies behind the founding of the world’s biggest social networking site.


Reason to watch: While this movie might not be directly linked to public relations per se, it does reveal something close to heart: the type of human behaviour that social networking sites successfully tap into. 

Today, with social media being largely interconnected with PR strategies nowadays, watching this tell-all film can give great insight on what it takes to go all-in on digital.

Funnily enough, Zuckerberg actually took his staff to go see the movie, even though the film was universally deemed as a slap against him. But was that a brilliant PR move? Absolutely.

2. Wag the Dog (1997)

Synopsis: Starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, this movie is about a group of people who come together to change the audience’s focus of attention, from the sexual misconduct the President was accused of to something else, something bigger: the war with Albania. 


Reason to watch:  We all know that old adage: If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. In this case, it is “change the story, change the lead”, a line that is repeated throughout the movie. 

A classic PR must-see, this film poses some great questions about how PR and other elements have the power to shape public image and community sentiment, or in other words, wag the dog

See also: Common mistakes in PR: Are you hurting your publicity?

1. Jerry Maguire

Synopsis: When slick business agent Jerry Maguire (starring Tom Cruise) has a crisis of conscience, he leaves the comfort of a firm to start his own management firm. The only thing that will save him is his key relationships.


Reason to watch: Jerry Maguire challenges the stereotype of PR and represents exactly what a modern-day practitioner should be. “The key to this business is personal relationships,” is advice given to Maguire in the film – advice that is indeed applicable to all PR practitioners. In fact, the film is filled with bite-sized wisdom, and there is even an entire article dedicated to social media lessons from Jerry Maguire quotes.

As a startup PR firm, we can truly resonate with the attention that Maguires strives to give to his clients in the film, making him our ultimate (fictional) PR hero. 

See also: Understanding PR campaigns: what is it for and when you need one

If there’s anything that these films taught me, it’s that PR is simply just the vehicle between those who want to say something and those who want to hear it. While most of the PR professionals in mainstream media are depicted as conniving, unprincipled hotshots who will do anything for fame, it is a far cry from the truth. 

If you’d like to learn more about what PR truly is, and how it can help your brand, drop us an email at [email protected].

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