What ‘The Great Gatsby’ can teach us about PR

The acclaimed 1920s novel, with a new film version opening, offers dos and don’ts for industry pros.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald penned “The Great Gatsby,” he sought to depict the opulence and decadence of the Roaring Twenties. Little did he know that tucked in the folds of his Great American Novel would be lessons for PR pros that would resonate 90 years after its completion. The latest film rendition opened nationwide last weekend, and with Leonardo DiCaprio set to melt hearts as the dashing Jay Gatsby, Ragan Communications decided to take a lighthearted look at what PR pros could learn from the novel and title character: 1. To thine ownself be true. Originally from a poverty-stricken Midwestern family, James Gatz reinvented his persona to become a self-made, mysterious millionaire who threw extravagant parties. In PR, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being who your client or C-suite thinks you should be. The strengths you bring to the job and the personality that goes with it are why you were hired. Colleagues and clients will soon see through any phoniness, which will hurt relationship-building down the road. 2. Avoid deception. Betrayal is just one of the themes running through the novel—betrayal of people and of one’s own ideals. Too often, organizations may look to “stretch the narrative” without a strong foundation of truth. It’s our job as PR pros to ensure a brand’s messaging is truthful, relevant, and inoffensive—and won’t turn around and bite them in the end. 3. The art of throwing a party. PR is more than just parties, of course, but launches and grand openings are part of the game. Gatsby was famous for his parties, yet he kept his distance from his guests. Despite all the people who clamored to attend his lavish soirees, only a few people, mostly his servants, showed up for Gatsby’s funeral. The lesson? Parties/launches are occasions to make connections, kick off long-term campaigns, and ensure the organization’s narrative comes through loud and clear. It’s OK to invite “A-listers,” but if you don’t use the opportunity to talk and get to know anyone, you’re not going to make a lasting impression on anybody. 4. Don’t forget to promote. The novel’s popularity picked up steam almost 25 years after it was published. What rescued it from obscurity? A promotion that distributed more than 150,000 free copies of the book to military personnel. As more copies ended up in people’s hands, the more word of mouth grew, and thus began a revival of the soon-to-be classic. When creating a PR launch, ensure you’ve developed a holistic approach so all channels have been exploited to their maximum potential. Limiting exposure can exclude an important segment of your audience. 5. A defining moment. “The Great Gatsby” is regularly used as a definitive depiction of the Roaring Twenties. Through crisis or brilliance, PR has created oft-cited case studies and its own defining moments. Witness the BP public relations disaster or how Oreo vaulted itself into the spotlight because of a Super Bowl blackout. Capitalizing on a moment or a trend can be a boon or bust for your organization, depending on how you handle it. So, Ragan readers, can you think of any other Gatsby-esque references as you head off to the movies tonight? (Image via)

Topics: PR

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