5 PR Nightmares, Brought to You by Your Favorite Fictional Characters

October 2, 2023

Things that go bump in the night aren’t the only things keeping PR pros awake...

Spooky season is officially upon us, which means it’s time to bring on the ghost stories and jump scares galore!

But let’s be real: as professional communicators, few things can get your heart racing more than a public relations crisis, which is why our team at HSN PR put together a list of the top 5 PR Nightmares – brought to you by your favorite fictional characters (because anything in real-life, might be just a little too scary) – to help spook you into the Halloween spirit. From a reputational management perspective, those that made the list range from cringeworthy to downright terrifying.


1. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David

True, Larry never professes to be a role model, but for us, his complete ignorance of (or disregard for – you be the judge) social conventions doesn’t make it any easier to watch the trail of chaos unfold behind him during the show’s 11 seasons. While each episode concludes with Larry emerging largely unscathed by his self-inflicted woes, when it comes to managing your brand’s reputation, we recommend you ignore taking cues from Larry’s playbook and stick to the script.





2. Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones

We know, we know. As far as fictional characters go, Samantha Jones is everyone’s favorite PR guru…but hear us out. At its core, communications is a strategic business function, but the way in which Samantha approaches her role as a publicist seems anything but strategic. At one point, we even hear her make the claim that there’s “no such thing as bad publicity” (big oof). It’s true, throughout the show we see her beloved by clients for her ability to “put out fires” (except, for the Birkin bag incident), but when it comes to promoting and protecting your brand’s reputation, reactive is the last thing you want to be, which makes Samantha’s laissez-faire approach to comms a little unsettling for us.





3. The Office’s Michael Scott

Those who have seen The Office know there’s no shortage of embarrassing moments (lest we remind you of Season 6’s infamous Scott’s Tots episode?) involving the show’s main character, Michael Scott. However, Season 3’s Product Recall, stands out as a particularly good example of how to not approach crisis management. Here, the company’s Scranton office is thrown into clean-up mode after realizing that a batch of their paper has been shipped out to clients with an obscene watermark. Michael has some redeeming moments as he tries to lead his team to fix this issue – for example, he seems genuinely concerned about making things right – but most of his other decisions only exasperate what could have been a fixable issue. Decisions like sending untrained employees out to serve as official company spokespeople or inviting unnecessary media attention to the issue with an unapproved press conference. And, of course, opting not to inform corporate leadership about the issue. The episode is far from realistic, but watching something escalate from a small blunder into a full PR issue can still be anxiety-inducing, nonetheless.


4. Silicon Valley’s Richard Hendricks

Richard, the show’s main protagonist, is far from the worst character you’ll encounter over the course of six seasons (Gavin Belson is pretty terrible, but our vote’s on Erlich Bachman). However, Richard’s meltdown in Season 3’s The Empty Chair episode (you know, the one where he mistakenly tells a reporter about the company’s mismanagement and grievances with investor Laurie Bream) earns him a spot on our list. By the end of the episode, the situation is resolved, and Richard ultimately gets his wish to become CEO – but all at the expense of one of the worst self-inflicted PR crises we’ve seen play out in recent TV history.




5. The Whole Cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Need we say more? In Season 12, we see The Gang thrown into crisis mode in the aptly named Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Nightmare episode. Here, Frank’s soft drink company is unexpectedly adopted as the brand-of-choice by a terrorist organization, prompting Frank, Dennis and Dee to mitigate the brand’s damage by seeking out an interview with a local news station. Meanwhile, Mac and Charlie go off on their own to promote their equally problematic beverage, Fight Milk – a noxious concoction proven to make consumers sick. This isn’t the first time The Gang has been tossed into the throes of reputation management, but the real horror is that it certainly isn’t the last either.




Did we leave any of your favorites off the list? Let us know by commenting on this post on LinkedIn. And if the thought of a real-life PR nightmare is keeping you up, contact our team to learn how we can help your brand manage reputational risk.