PR takeaways from 4 cult-classic movies

What do an Irish misfit, an aspiring writer and ‘the Dude’ have in common? They offer lessons for industry pros. Read on—and leave that spooky black candle unlit, please.

As the weather cools and summer activities dwindle, I find myself wanting to curl up in a blanket and turn on a good movie.

I love losing myself in a riveting narrative—whether I’m following Sherlock Holmes as he seeks to solve his newest mystery or sitting in the Boston Globe newsroom next to Sacha Pfeiffer. As a PR pro, I’m constantly trying to find movie takeaways that I can relate to my everyday job, clients and colleagues.

I’ve broken down examples of PR lessons derived from several favorite cult-classic movies:

‘Almost Famous’: Take risks…

This is my favorite, and I’ve watched it dozens of times. Set in 1973, it follows 15-year-old music fanatic William, who is inspired by the influential bands of the period. When he lands an assignment for Rolling Stone magazine to interview the budding band Stillwater, he sets off on an eye-opening journey (against his mother’s wishes) with the band that changes him forever.

How it relates to PR: While in college studying PR, we are expected to follow the rules and stick to the given guidelines, much like William with his mother early in the movie. However, as you develop your skills in the PR field, taking the lead and changing the game can bring great rewards. William takes a risk (standing up to his mother) to follow his dream of becoming a writer by going on tour with a controversial band at a young age. He teaches us that calculated risks can pay off in unexpected ways. Sometimes you just have to cross your fingers, go on the journey and experience that “it’s all happening.”

‘Hocus Pocus’: … but not stupid risks.

After moving to Salem, Massachusetts, teenager Max Dennison breaks into an abandoned house with his sister and his new friend Allison. Max disregards everyone’s warnings and lights the black candle that brings the three evil Sanderson sisters back to life. Max ignores the warnings of his peers and elders, creating a crisis that easily could have been avoided.

How it relates to PR: Dealing daily with large consumer brands, my agency colleagues must be aware of everything—even the negative—that’s going on in the food industry so we don’t repeat others’ mistakes. DiGiorno pizza taught us last year the importance of researching trending hashtags before hopping in on the conversation. (Its brand managers mistakenly made light of domestic violence by failing to learn what the #WhyIStayed hashtag was all about.) That goes for looking into trending topics or determining which reporters would be a fit for your client’s product.

‘The Big Lebowski’: Know your field inside out.

Jeff Lebowski, known as “the Dude,” is a burnout who has the same name as a millionaire whose wife owes money to a number of scary men. However, when the Dude isn’t searching for the millionaire’s missing wife, he is at the local bowling alley analyzing his competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.

Bowling has become an integral part of the Dude’s life, giving him a profound sense of what his competitors are capable of accomplishing. This level of care and consideration ultimately leads him and his team to the league championship.

How it relates to PR: Although practitioners should have interests outside the PR bubble, it’s vital that you know the PR industry—and your clients’ industries—inside and out. This means staying on top of current trends, uncovering new technologies useful to the field, knowing the market as a whole and—most important—knowing how to use it to your clients’ advantage. This will help you to successfully position your clients in a crowded field, showcasing your value.

‘Sing Street’: Adapt to changing circumstances.

Sure to become a cult classic, “Sing Street” is about a boy named Conor growing up in 1980s Dublin. Conor’s family is struggling financially, so he must transfer to a free state school, resulting in encounters with the school bully. Conor forms a band—calling itself Sing Street—to impress an aspiring model who lives nearby, inviting her to be in the band’s music video. The band continually adapts to the fast-changing 1980s music landscape, winning favor in the school and helping Conor to overcome the bullying and get the girl.

How it relates to PR: As a PR pro, you will undoubtedly be put in uncomfortable situations, as Conor did in heading to a new school environment. Working at a PR agency, you must be able to jump with ease from client to client and from industry to industry. Adapting to change in the blink of an eye and making the best of any situation will position you as a valuable asset to any client or organization.

Has a favorite movie taught you a PR lesson? If so, please share it with us in the comments.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Shift Communications blog.

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Topics: PR

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