What Bill Murray’s ‘Groundhog Day’ can teach communicators

To be successful, communicators must develop sources of information within their organizations. The movie shows what that takes.

Bill Murray's Groundhog Day can teach us a lot about smart communications

Earning trust is an overlooked skill for communicators. It’s also a little-noticed theme of “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray.

Murray plays a self-centered, TV weathercaster from Pittsburgh named Phil who’s forced to cover the annual Punxsutawney Groundhog Festival, an assignment he despises. He covers the event, gets snowed in and is forced to stay overnight. When he wakes up, it’s still Groundhog Day, and he’s forced to relive the same day, over and over. Each day he does things differently, although nothing changes.

A corporate communicator’s job can seem like it’s the same thing every day. One of the ways to break out of that rut is to act more like your sometimes nemeses — reporters. Work the beat, which means, like a good reporter, develop sources.

“Groundhog Day” isn’t the first movie that comes to mind when reporter’s sources are mentioned. But a good reporter’s relationships are based on trust.

“Trust me”

Of course, Phil’s test lies with Rita, who does not trust him. He repeatedly tries to seduce her.

Over the course of the movie, he learns how to be a better person. After covering the festivities several times, Phil tells Rita, the producer, to set up their camera in a different direction than all the other TV crews. Rita, played by Andie McDowell, protests, but Phil, says, “Just trust me.”

They get a perfect shot of the groundhog which the other crews miss.

As the movie ends, Rita falls in love with Phil’s better version of himself.

Developing sources

Sources must trust a reporter to be accurate, fair and smart. They must trust a reporter to keep a confidence. For communicators, your sources must trust that you have the best interests of the organization at heart.

Distrust chokes off any sharing of information, the lifeblood of reporters — and communicators.

How do reporters do it? Their techniques are like those many communicators already use — networking, but with a different purpose. The purpose of networking is to benefit yourself: expand your contacts, improve your skills, grow your business or find a new job.

In contrast, reporters develop sources to gain information, plain and simple. Why would more information help communicators? Here are three reasons:

  • The more you know, the better writer you’ll be. Many problems we spot in writing stem from gaps in reporting
  • Getting to know people in advance reduces the awkwardness that can mar some interviews
  • Knowing what’s going on means fewer last-minute press release requests will catch you by surprise

What’s the first step? Talk to people. Get off email and on the phone. Then get off the phone and up from the desk.

“Relationship building in a hybrid environment is easier than it may seem,” career advisor Gorick Ng recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review, offering a step-by-step guide.

Source-building myths

But the goal in source development is to gain information, unlike networking, which tends toward self-promotion. Always focus on the source: What do they do? What do they know?

Too often, communicators’ relationships are transactional. They want an announcement, or you need them to write something. Break that cycle by getting to know them. Offer to help by editing a PowerPoint or a memo. Make it about them, not you.

Communicators are often discouraged from developing sources by a couple of common myths. For one, there’s the feeling that everybody’s too busy and important to talk to them. In truth, people love to talk about their jobs once you break the ice. Especially data analysts and subject matter experts who are seldom asked for their opinions and big-picture thoughts about what they do.

A second myth is that the CEO is too busy. In our experience, most leaders are more approachable than people think. Yet overzealous staff keeps leaders in a bubble to “protect their time.” Casual drop-ins aren’t a recommended step toward advancement. A purposeful, well-thought-out conversation is achievable.

The third myth is that you’re too busy. You are busy, but so is everybody else. But as you start to develop sources, you’ll begin to see it’s worth the time.

“Groundhog Day” also offers some advice about being too busy. In the original script, Phil reflects at the end of film, “You can waste time, you can kill time, you can do time, but if you use it wisely, there’s never enough of it. So, you’d better make the most of the time you’ve got.”

The filmmakers must have decided that was too philosophical for Phil. The film ends with Phil and Rita coming out of the B&B and Phil gushing, “Let’s live here…. We’ll rent to start.”

Tom Corfman is an attorney and senior consultant with Ragan Consulting Group. Schedule a call with Kristin Hart to learn how we can help you improve your communications effort with training, consulting and strategic counsel. Follow RCG on LinkedIn and subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.


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