I didn’t know it at the time, but many of the lessons that have shaped who I am today came from the TV shows I watched as a kid. In some cases those shows taught me a bit about my future career, too.
Yes, I am saying I learned PR lessons from ’80s television.
Those of us who grew up in the ’80s recall our favorite sitcoms with great pleasure; they were full of heartwarming, yet humorous, life lessons. As a child growing up on an apple orchard miles from town, TV meant the five channels that came in via a rabbit-ear antenna. But it was all I needed for hours and hours of Saturday morning cartoons and an endless number of sitcoms.
Of these, one of my favorites was “Silver Spoons.” Starring the great Ricky Schroder as Ricky, “Silver Spoons” began running in 1982 when I was 10 years old. During the fourth episode we were introduced to a celebrity who would become a childhood hero: Mr. T.
Here are a few PR lessons from the great Mr. T:
1. Stay on message.
“First name ‘Mr.,’ middle name ‘period’ and last name ‘T’!”
Mr. T played a bodyguard whom Ricky’s father hired to protect Ricky from a bully. In an inspired scene, Mr. T shows up to class to protect Ricky and has a run in with the teacher who inquires about his name. Mr. T’s response was simply brilliant: “First name ‘Mr.,’ middle name ‘period’ and last name ‘T’!”
There you have it: a PR lesson from Mr. T. In that statement, Mr. T exemplified the art of staying on message. Sure, he could have offered a long answer about how his real name was Laurence Tureaud, but as a professional bodyguard he was known as Mr. T. But that sort of explanation didn’t make sense for Mr. T’s character or brand. He needed a clever, terse and funny response-and he delivered.
2. Words matter.
“Love is a verb… and verbs show action.”
Mr. T, let’s be clear: “Love” is also a noun, but we get your point. Love is not just a word—it’s an action. OK, yes, that is a life lesson rather than a PR lesson, but the PR lesson is that words matter. Mr. T had a true hold on words and used them well. While he could be brief, he was on message and usually made sense. He clearly stated his point in a manner that even children understood.
3. Don’t miss a big opportunity because of cost.
“You gonna lose a deal over $35? That’s chump change! My lunch cost $35!”
The PR lesson here is simple: Some things are not free, so don’t lose a story or deal based on minor expenses. Sure, none of us want to pay for PR—earned media is our holy grail—but we should never think of PR as free. Earned media is earned. With that in mind, we always need to be willing to absorb a cost, whether it be it dollars or time, to get the results we want.
If something costs more than you expect but the value of the story is high, don’t miss out. For example, when I was in consumer product PR, I cannot tell you how many times I rushed to FedEx to get my package into the last overnight shipment to make sure my product was in the hands of a producer or reporter the next morning. The cost was high, both in shipping fees and time spent rushing to the airport terminal, but the reward-often as awesome as a “Today Show” feature-was almost always worth the trouble.
4. Don’t hate your competition.
“No, I don’t hate Balboa, but I pity the fool.”
This is fantastic Mr. T advice from “Rocky III.” We have competition, but we should never be haters. Always take the high road.
When you are neck-and-neck with the competition for coverage, or featured side-by-side in a story, never hate. Just love them for making you a more competitive person, and then pity them because you are awesome and will obviously win.
5. Stay focused.
“I got no time for the jibba-jabba.”
This is good advice, Mr. T. The life of a PR pro is very busy; we do not have time for distractions or “jibba-jabba.” We need to stay focused and save the idle conversation for later. And as any good PR pro knows, jibba-jabba can often lead to over-sharing and going off message. We certainly don’t want that.
6. Face your fears.
“I ain’t getting on no plane, Hannibal!”
On “The A-Team” (another great TV show of the ’80s), Mr. T learned one lesson time and time again: Face your fears. B. A. Baracus, his character on the show, was terrified of flying on planes, and the other characters often tricked him into flying. Every time, Mr. T realized it wasn’t so bad. He didn’t usually admit it when things worked out, but you could see he knew it inside. I always believed he was proud that he’d tackled a fear.
PR folks need to confront their fears every day. Our fears are wide and varied, ranging from the fear of rejection when pitching to the fear of public speaking or failing on a project. But we can, and must, overcome them. Face the fear head on.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Meltwater Public Relations Blog.