3 times The Simpsons taught us a lesson about PR
By Holly Aker, Senior Account Executive
Since its first episode in 1989, The Simpsons has become the longest-running primetime scripted series on television as well as one of the most influential shows in American culture. The show is currently in its 32nd season, and it will air its 700th episode by the end of the season. The Simpsons has won dozens of Emmys, a Peabody award, and it even released a full-length movie in 2007, which grossed US$526.2 million worldwide.
While some may argue that the quality of the jokes has decreased in the last decade (me, I’m arguing it), everyone can agree that the first dozen seasons were pure comedy gold. However, if you read between the lines, you’ll see The Simpsons wasn’t just trying to make us laugh; it was also portraying great advice on how to hone your PR skills.
- Do your research
In season three, episode six, “Like Father, Like Clown,” Lisa and Bart discover their favorite TV personality Krusty the Clown was disowned by his father, Hyman Krustofsky, because Krusty wanted to be an entertainer while his father wanted him to become a rabbi like himself. As a way to convince the rabbi to reunite with his son, Lisa pours over Judaic teachings of forgiveness and, as a long shot, finally breaks through to Krystokfsky with a quote from Sammie Davis Jr.. The quote deeply moves the rabbi and makes him realize entertainers can have a place in Jewish culture too. The father and son reunite and sing a duet of “O Mein Papa.”
Knowing your target audience is essential to success in PR. Journalists want to know that they’re receiving a pitch that was specifically meant for them and not something that was sent to a million people at once. They want to know that you took the time to look at what they write and what their interests are. The easiest way to do this is to look at their social media. Are they tweeting about a specific sports team or TV show? Lead your pitch with that by asking what they thought of the latest game or plot twist. You may even have luck by sharing that you root for a rival team and creating a friendly rivalry with the journalist. By showing that you care about the journalist as a person rather than a means to an end, you’ll lay the foundation for a great relationship.
- Think fast under pressure
In season five, episode 12, “Bart Gets Famous,” Bart takes a job as Krusty the Clown’s assistant, and one night Krusty needs Bart to fill in for an actor on one of his TV show skits. As Bart walks onto the stage, he runs into a prop, which sets off a chain reaction, destroying the entire set. Mortified by what he just did, Bart tries to think of something to say to save himself and exclaims, “I didn’t do it!” His quick thinking pays off. The audience begins howling with laughter, and Bart instantly reaches celebrity status, where he does everything from record an album, write an autobiography and appear on Late Night with Conan O’Brien to deliver his famous line.
Picture this: a journalist calls you on the phone to discuss your client’s upcoming news. The journalist asks you a very specific, technical question about how the software works that you do not know how to answer. What do you do? The first thing you don’t do is give an answer that you don’t know to be true, but you also can’t silently sit there and not provide an answer. PR people must be able to quickly think on their feet even if that means stalling for time while you search your emails for the answer. A big part of thinking quickly under pressure is being prepared. Before you get on the call with a journalist—or even more importantly, a client—make sure you’re prepared to quickly handle any question they throw at you. However, if a question or situation does catch you off guard, be honest and provide a solution: “That’s a great question. I’ll look into it right now and come back with the correct answer.”
- Find the bright side of any situation
In season six, episode 11, “Fear of Flying,” Homer is moping on the couch after being banned from his local watering hole. The rest of the Simpson family attempts to cheer him up, and Lisa says, “Look on the brightside, Dad. Did you know the Chinese use the same word for ‘crisis’ as they do for ‘opportunity?” Homer replies with, “Yes, crisitunity!” This pep talk makes him realize he can use this time to find an even better bar than the one he used to frequent.
Unfortunately, working in PR isn’t always about exciting, positive news; sometimes we have to deal with bad news and uncomfortable circumstances. However, it’s how we handle these unfavorable situations that prove our worth. When a client has to announce bad news, they will lean heavily on their PR team for support. This is the opportunity to show them that you are level headed and professional no matter the circumstance. The client will come away from the situation with a sense of relief, know that they can trust you and rely on you even in tough times.