PR Impacts Relations Between Documentarians and Corporate Execs

The Sundance Film Festival is happening through this Sunday and one of the films getting attention is The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the latest from Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. The new film takes a look at product placement and marketing, with Spurlock talking to reps from brands including Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate juice, and JetBlue.

“It took finding businesspeople who were willing to stick their necks out in a big way,” Spurlock told The New York Times. Indeed, McDonald’s is likely still a little stung by that “other movie.”

A 2009 study by the Center for Social Media at American University found that “documentarians ‘often’ don’t treat corporate executives in the same manner as everyday citizens, partly because executives have access to public relations experts.”

The study points out that there has been an ongoing ethical discussion about documentary filmmaking, with some saying they think it’s OK to at times use deception in the filmmaking process. Still, there has been a boom in documentaries.

“By the late 1990s, U.S. documentary filmmakers had become widely respected media makers, recognized as independent voices at a time of falling public confidence in mainstream media and in the integrity of the political process,” the study reads.

Karen Frank, a marketing vice president for Kao Brands, participated in the latest Spurlock documentary “as a way to show that we don’t take ourselves or the industry so seriously that we can’t have fun,” she says.

Whatever your reason, it’s good advice to approach a documentary opportunity as you would any other media inquiry – ask questions and if you know that your company or industry has been involved in something that can bring it under harsh scrutiny, be prepared to answer for that whether you participate or not.