PR LessonsBy Gini Dietrich

finally started to watch House of Cards and I am so mad!

The cast is full of horrible people and I cannot believe I have to spend so much time with them (but, of course, cannot stop).

I’m only five episodes into the second season so have lots left to go and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t yet watched it, but I will say this: They are horrible, horrible, horrible human beings who you can’t help but cheer for them to win. And I love Peter Russo.

That said, there are some crazy good PR lessons you can gain from watching the show. So I shall focus on that instead of the horrible people (and my love of Peter Russo).

Ten PR Lessons from House of Cards

  1. Be prepared. In the first season, Frank Underwood’s first big deal is to get an education bill passed. Though he is ridiculously strategic (and very manipulative), he doesn’t prepare to go on CNN and he gets stuck. It’s so bad that he stutters through an answer and it becomes a YouTube sensation. If he’d put his ego aside for a minute and let a communications professional ask him all of the tough questions ahead of time, that wouldn’t have been among the PR lessons.
  2. Be prepared for the hard questions. Likewise, Claire Underwood does a live interview in the second season where she is asked if Frank married her for her daddy’s money. She did put her ego aside and she did prepare for the tough questions so she answered that like a pro.
  3. Don’t lie. That said, she was asked, in that same interview, if she’d ever had an abortion. She didn’t lie when asked the question, but she did lie about its circumstances. PR lessons galore in this one because now, of course, there will be extortion that will likely end in an investigation. It will eventually come out that she lied and there will be a crisis to deal with that could cripple the power couple.
  4. Respond quickly to a crisis. In Gaffney, South Carolina, where Frank Underwood is from, there is a peach water tower called the Peachold. In the first season, during the education bill talks, Frank has to leave Washington—and the school unions—to respond to a crisis involving the Peachold. Though the union talks broke down, he managed the crisis in his hometown quickly and efficiently and shut down the most vocal criticism. So good at this crisis. Not so good at preventing one through a lie, as seen above.
  5. Build great relationships. In the first season, we see Frank Underwood build a relationship with a young and bright journalist. Zoe Barnes (seen in the image above) keeps getting scoops that her more experienced and connected colleagues miss, and it’s all because of the relationship she has with Underwood. BUT, the relationship eventually turns sour when they take it to a physical one and that ends. Among the PR lessons is to build great relationships…but don’t sleep with them.
  6. Be honest. Peter Russo (whom I love!) told his side of the story and was honest about his past when he ran for governor of Pennsylvania. Because he came straight out and said he was a recovering alcoholic and had done lots of drugs, there wasn’t a story to tell. So many PR lessons in that one, but it goes along with “don’t lie” and “be prepared for the hard questions.”
  7. Information is power. Though I don’t love how Frank uses information for power, he does understand its value. To get what he wants, he digs and digs and digs until he finds something that is useful. When he needs to get votes for the entitlement bill so the government doesn’t shut down, he spends a few hours with his biggest opponent, where he learns about the man’s wife who has Alzheimer’s. He, of course, tries to use that for his gain and, when it doesn’t entirely work, pockets the information for later.
  8. Be nice to everyone. I love Freddy and his BBQ joint. Frank spends lots of solitary time at Freddy’s BBQ and that relationship comes in handy quite often. In our PR lessons (and in life, in general), it’s important to be good to everyone. Freddy comes through for Frank during the teacher’s strike and I imagine we’ll see lots more of him.
  9. Goodwill goes far. Jackie Sharp becomes the new majority whip in Congress and she quickly shows herself as strong, smart, and very different from Frank. Rather than trading votes for favors, she stands up to her colleagues and proves that being good and making decisions that are right for our country go much further than getting something in exchange.
  10. Social media gives everyone a bullhorn. And last, but certainly not least, when Zoe’s editor calls her a not-very-nice word, she proves that anyone who has a social media presence can tell their side of a story quickly and efficiently. So many PR lessons in that one, but I don’t have to tell you that social media provides everyone with a bullhorn.

It’s probably pretty easy to keep going, but I’ll hand the comments over to you now.

What PR lessons can you find in House of Cards?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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