It takes a lot for me to get sucked into a TV show. So when Shonda Rhimes created Scandal in 2012, I was hesitant. I wondered what enjoyment I would get out of watching an overly dramatized version of my profession. As it turns out, Scandal is so much more than that.
Six million people, myself included, have worked alongside Olivia Pope and her gang of gladiators over five seasons as they handle crisis after crisis. Shonda Rhimes has developed characters that entertain and educate us on an evolving array of lessons in how to deal with whatever is thrown our way, whether it be covering up a murder or rigging an election.
With characters like Olivia Pope and storylines that is loosely based on previous presidents, Scandal offers public relations professionals new, abstract ways of handling clients with situations that seem out of their control. By dedicating one hour a week to this show, every PR pro can gain knowledge and improve their expertise, all the while relaxing with popcorn and a glass of wine.
On the surface, Scandal is about a crisis communications group in Washington D.C. that deals with emotionally charged and high-risk situations. By delving deeper, we, as professionals, can see it is about the ins and outs of our everyday lives that we may not necessarily acknowledge, just in a more exaggerated way. Everyday, the gladiators are roped into dealing with clients with different needs, such as shaping key messages, launching campaigns or even, in the most recent season, edit a book in order to help Mellie Grant win the presidential election. Does any of that sound familiar?
Many people who watch the show have different reasons for why they like it: they like the strong female characters; they like the sex appeal; they like the African American lead. But as of 2014, there are 240,700 PR practitioners in the United States and while we may enjoy these different aspects of the show, we really only watch for the crazy PR stunts we know Olivia is going to pull off. We see that in addition to crisis communications, Olivia is a solid role-model for how to deal with media and client relations.
Since Olivia worked as Communication Officer for the White House, which would probably be one of the coolest jobs ever, she formed strong relationships with prominent people in her world, including the press and The President himself. Although, her romantic relationship with President Fitzgerald Grant probably had something to do with that.
Anyway, the way she advocates on behalf of her clients is something every PR practitioner should aspire to. She doesn’t pick her clients based on her own morals; instead, someone comes to her with a crisis and she handles it. Her people will go to any length to protect and promote their client in the best light, hence why they refer to themselves as gladiators.
Now, as a second-semester college senior, I know the basics of public relations: research, planning, communication and evaluation. I will admit, Pope & Associates doesn’t show much of these steps other than communication. Olivia doesn’t seem to do much planning; instead, she just acts. But she can get away with it because a) she’s a fictional character, but also b) because she can think quickly, strategically and creatively under massive amounts of pressure. Not everyone can do that. This gives all PR professionals something to strive for, though. Who doesn’t want to stand tall and be a gladiator?
So while Scandal is an embellishment of what we do on an everyday basis, it is not far off from the tactics we employ for our clients. We always have to go the extra mile, have a plan and divide and conquer. Sure, we throw in other responsibilities like billing and research, not to mention we’re not legally allowed to slip someone a briefcase full of money or clean up a crime scene, but we can at least appreciate the show for everything else it entails.
I have to say, critics of Scandal are missing out on opportunities to learn something they may not have thought of. It allows us to break out of our comfort zones and think as extreme as Olivia Pope. One thing I can guarantee though: once I graduate, you can be sure that this gladiator has it handled.
Brianna Buthorn is a public relations/marketing intern at Flackable, a national public relations agency supporting the communications needs of registered investment advisors (RIAs) and other forward-thinking financial services firms. To learn more about Flackable, please visit www.flackable.com. Follow Brianna Buthorn on Twitter at @BButhorn.