3 lessons PR professionals can learn from Halloween movies

Yes, the bad guy triumphs in Halloween horror films. He’s thought of everything, knows how to do evil in 50 ways. But don’t set up your clients to fail by promising reporters they’re experts in everything.

Halloween is just around the corner; Americans are preparing to show off costumes of ghouls, goblins, and goddesses. While it may be fun to be spooked, communications pros are working to ensure their clients aren’t tricked this All Hallows’ Eve.

At my firm, Media & Communications Strategies, we stress to clients not to get tricked or spooked during a media engagement, speech, or any other external communication. As former journalists, many of us have learned tricks of the trade, and this Halloween we’ve served up three lessons from classic Halloween movies that apply to communications professionals and their clients:

1. “The Nightmare Before Christmas “—There are many takeaways from this classic; the main one for PR pros is that they must home in on publicizing particular skills of their clients. Don’t try to make them expert in everything. In this Tim Burton tale, Jack the Skeleton, successful as the leader of Halloween for many years, decides to take on Christmas as well. He makes a shambles of the Nativity.

The same thing can happen for PR reps pitching clients for stories. The media get pelted by pitches, so you must focus on what makes your client special, what new angle they bring to the piece.

Occasionally, our team works with a person who wants to brand herself as an expert in her field. Regardless of her profession, we conduct media training with her right away to find out what differentiates her from others in her industry. We then can offer unique angles to the media.

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Students by nature, we learn all about the industries of our clients so we know where to attack. We avoid spreading our clients over every possible field. Jack the Skeleton was great at Halloween. Find out what makes your client great.

2. “Hocus Pocus”—Not many people celebrate Halloween without watching this movie—and even though we’ve seen it too many times to count, we still squirm when Max Dennison, the new kid in town, ignores warnings not to light the black candle that brings the evil Sanderson sisters back to life. The lesson is simple: learn from others’ mistakes. Max dismissed the warnings and created chaos.

When a company fumbles its public relations, they aren’t the first. Many companies learned from Johnson & Johnson’s product recall in 1982, when seven people died from cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules. The company recalled millions of bottles of Tylenol and worked closely with police to solve this horrendous crime.

Because Tylenol put their customers first, the brand survived the crisis and leads its market today. Although this happened thirty-two years ago, it’s still an excellent example of how to handle a product recall and shows how we can learn from history.

3. “Urban Legend”—This 1998 slasher flick, not as well known as the other two films, is the most relevant for communications professionals. The story is simple: a prestigious New England university harbors a serial killer who students suspect kills in the style of urban legends. The school administration denies the existence of the serial killer and brushes the student press aside when it tries to shine light on the story.

My firm works with several universities and our advice to them when a problem hits is always the opposite of the action the university takes in “Urban Legend”: Never try to sweep a situation under the rug, as it will always worsen. We identify the facts and work with third parties to conduct investigations. We keep all members of the university and surrounding community informed.

Whatever your film this holiday season, there’s a lesson to be learned and shared with clients. And often the lesson is very simple. What did the “Friday the 13th” series teach me? If locals tell you your campsite shelters a blood-thirsty, revenge-seeking terror, find somewhere else to pitch your tent.

Kate Connors is the senior account manager and social media strategist at Media & Communications Strategies.

This article first ran on Ragan.com in Oct. 2014.

Topics: PR

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