PR Lessons from “House of Cards”
March 16, 2016
March 16, 2016
The other night, I dreamt that President Francis Underwood’s press secretary gave me the urgent task of writing a statement to send to the Washington Herald. Undoubtedly a byproduct of watching the newest season of “House of Cards” in less than two days, I woke up overwhelmed with gratitude that I was not in Seth Grayson’s shoes. However, once I assured myself that his communications nightmare was not my reality (you’ll know what I mean after watching the finale), I realized that my binge-watching could actually be productive. The Underwoods, through their twisted manipulation of the American political system, actually have quite a bit to teach us about PR. Careful, minor spoilers ahead!
Practice makes perfect
Some of my favorite scenes throughout “House of Cards” depict Frank and Claire preparing for speeches, debates and meetings, overlapping with shots of them expertly delivering the talking points they rehearsed. Talented as they are, even the President and First Lady understand the importance of practicing their delivery, anticipating critiques and executing rebuttals to strengthen their arguments and weaken those from their opponents. At Solomon McCown, whenever we hold presentation trainings or media trainings for our clients, we always advise them to rehearse before a big speaking engagement, meeting or interview. In fact, it’s something we regularly do ourselves!
Good writing goes a long way
Hiring a new speechwriter later in the season was a turning point in the Underwoods’ presidential campaign. His ability to capture their voices, elicit empathy with the audience and inspire the electorate helped Frank and Claire secure the Democratic nomination, and gain traction against their Republican opponent. As part of our work, it is a privilege to assist with writing for thought leaders, converting challenging subject matter into understandable language. Just like a well-written speech, a strategic op-ed or byline placement plays an important part in connecting with the right audience.
Always have a plan for potential issues
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that none of us have the types of skeletons in our closets that the Underwoods do, but the finale of Season Four is an exaggerated reminder that it’s always important to anticipate unflattering coverage. The timing could not have been worse when the Underwoods were blindsided by a story that would devastate their campaign—during a national crisis too. But multiple issues can occur at the same time, and it is always better to put a plan into action rather than scramble for a solution when issues arise.
Communication is a team effort
Even though Frank and Claire share the spotlight, there is a lot going on behind the scenes to support them. From writing, to media relations, to debate prep, it is important that everybody involved functions as a unit, providing feedback to one another to ensure that the best possible message goes out. This is the most important part of our work at SM& as we collaborate with each other and our clients to communicate effectively to the audiences that matter most.
Although “House of Cards” may not be the most accurate or most optimistic reflection of American politics, there are certainly takeaways that we can apply to our own professions. For our sake, let’s just hope that the course of events taking place throughout the Underwood saga remain fiction – or just an unsettling dream.