The thing is, I've given enough talks at schools to know that popular culture greatly influences what young people think of PR, from movies like Thank You for Smoking and Phone Booth to shows like the one we're talking about here. Hopefully, I can help some students by putting some reality into this "reality show." I may not get to posting my thoughts as soon as the episode comes out, but hopefully they'll go up in just enough time so as not to be completely useless.
In any event, it's an interesting springboard from which to discuss various realities about PR.
So, the second episode of The Spin Crowd featured some fairly standard reality-show set pieces. We had Summer, the uppity nineteen-year-old asthmatic mysophobe, get into it with assembly-line Hollywood PR babe Lauren. In parallel, President Jonathan and VP Simon (also roommates!) went out for a walk to try and iron out their differences. (Yes. Videographed evidence of people walking in Los Angeles and in plain view. Try to suspend disbelief.)
Most important, however, was the show's treatment of the concept of pro bono work, that is, professional services donated for a worthy cause.
More after the jump.
To make a too-long story not nearly short enough, Kelly Osbourne (daughter of the "Prince of F**king Darkness" himself) guilts Jonathan and Simon into handling PR on a pro bono basis for a fundraiser that seeks to help Hollywood's homeless. Jonathan initially protests, saying that he is "too busy" for pro bono work and has a lifestyle to maintain. (That his lifestyle involves him, as the owner of a supposedly successful shop, sharing a condo with his lieutenant in an environment barely above extremely-well-off-college-student is apparently beside the point.) Jonathan and Simon ultimately take on Kelly's cause, though Jonathan's initial publicity instinct was, of course, to try to "make homeless people 'hot.'"
In the end, the event is a success and we're treated to a breathlessly happy Jonathan, who tells the viewers "Beneath the well-tanned facade is a beating heart", finishing with "It [pro bono work] looks good for my image."
Granted, a firm's values are largely reflected in the pro bono work it takes on. Various offices around the Edelman network have pro bono clients, ranging from organizations that help disadvantaged inner-city children to others that fund much-needed wells in developing countries. Personally, my wife and I happily donate a huge chunk of what little free time we have every year to the University of Illinois at Chicago's Flourish conference, since we are both passionate supporters of open source. (The first planning meeting for 2011 is this week.)
Only the most intractable of cynics would say that we do these things for our "image." Some people--even PR people--do things because they want to help.
That said, I wouldn't judge someone harshly for not taking on pro bono work. In 2002 when I was working with some long-time colleagues to build our own marketing consultancy, we were certainly in no position to take on a pro bono client. It's not that we didn't have a soul, it's just that we liked to eat every so often.
Most importantly, though, consider that the cause your employer supports, noble though it may be, may not necessarily align with your own passions. Often, pro bono participation can become heavily politicized within an organization. ("What? You don't believe in organic vegetarian school lunches? What about the pesticides that our children consume every day!?! Monster!!!") There's nothing like charity
My view is that, if you're going to share your time and talents, make sure it's for a cause that is meaningful to you first and foremost. Never let anyone else's value judgments about the relative merits of their cause versus yours distract you.