They Played Realistic, Central Roles in a Functioning Corporate Setting
The four seasons of Succession have ended and whatever else you think of the TV series, it represented contemporary corporate communication realistically.
It showed an emphasis on internal communications, CEO Logan Roy served as an able spokesman and the company dropped the ball by not having a crisis plan in place when its 84-year-old scion dropped dead on a toilet seat. Screw-ups are part of the corporate communications world.
Notably, the series treated corporate communications like a profession, not a punch line. The portrayals showed corporate communicators seeking to forge consensus, maintain consistent external communications and anticipate the future.
Allison Braley, who formerly handled communications at Condé Nast and marketing partner for Bain Capital Ventures, said she was pleased Succession didn’t reduce corporate communicators to hackneyed roles such as fixers, event planners or nameless faces who shout “No comment” as they race past scrums of reporters.
“Succession places corporate communications and its practitioners at the strategic center for the Waystar Royco company and its various executives,” Braley writes in an essay for PR News. “While there are many outlandish plot lines on Succession, the role of comms is one area where the writers stayed fairly faithful to reality, simply by taking the job seriously.”
“The high-leverage work of shaping the external narrative and building consensus comes through in comms chief Karolina’s subtle, yet effective way of advising executives,” Braley explains. “Whether she’s managing a crisis and crafting statements or planning which Roy to put forward in a given situation, her role represents the closest representation of corporate comms that I’ve seen, though I hope no one out there ever has to work in an environment as Chernobyl-level toxic as Waystar Royco.”
Corporate communicators weren’t reduced to hackneyed roles as fixers, event planners or nameless cyphers who shout ‘No comment’ as they race by reporter scrums.
Even the unforgivable oversight of a crisis plan for the death of an aging CEO has an authentic ring. It happens all the time that companies, nonprofits and public agencies get caught flat-footed when an emergency situation occurs.
Braley recounted the realistic result of the oversight. Roman and Kendall, after taking over the company in the wake of their father’s death, displayed an unfortunate divergence. “The first one paid tribute to ‘Dear Old Dad,’ positioning him in a bright light, while the second one threw him under the bus to position the kids as the real power behind the throne.” It made for good TV but in real life not such good business. Neither wound up at the head of table when the series ended.
“The inconsistencies in showing corporate comms were minor, especially when compared with the joy many practitioners like me felt seeing the PR profession (which I sometimes have a hard time explaining to even my own parents) taken seriously on a prestige TV show,” Braley says. “The success of Succession is mainly due to the stellar writing and performances by the cast, but it gives me hope that it won’t be the last time we see PR on the screen in a respected context.“
“Many facets of our jobs aren’t glamorous,” she adds, “but the critical components of communications strategy that are essential to running a high-functioning company make great TV without any embellishment (or parties to plan).”