What PR Pros Can Learn From Cult Classic Movies

As the weather slowly becomes cooler and the constant slew of summer activities starts to dwindle, I always find myself wanting to curl up in a blanket and turn on a good movie. On a personal level, 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 learnings that I can relate to my everyday job, clients and colleagues (and let’s be honest, correcting character’s grammar).

I’ve broken down some examples of PR lessons derived from several of my favorite cult classic movies that incorporate points all PR pros can leverage to benefit both their careers and their clients. 

Almost Famous – Take Risks

This is my favorite, and I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve watched it dozens of times! Set in 1973, Almost Famous follows 15-year-old music fanatic William, who is inspired by the very influential bands of that time period. When his love of music lands him an assignment from 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’s tour that ultimately changes him – and his future – 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 at the beginning of the movie. However, as you develop your skills in the PR field, taking the lead and changing the game can result in great rewards. William took a risk to follow his dream of becoming a writer by going on tour with a controversial band at a young age, standing up to his mother in the process. He taught 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!”

The Big Lebowski – Know Your Field Inside Out

Jeff Lebowski, who goes by “the Dude,” is a burnout who happens to have the same name as a millionaire whose wife owes a number of scary men money. However, when the Dude isn’t searching for the millionaire’s missing wife, he is in the local bowling alley analyzing his competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. The Dude loves bowling so much that it has become an integral part of his life, which has provided him with 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 you should all have other interests outside of the PR bubble, it’s vital for you to know the PR industry – and your clients’ industries – inside and out. This means being on top of current trends, uncovering new technologies useful to the field, knowing the market as a whole and – most importantly – knowing how to use it to your clients’ advantage. This will allow you to successfully position your clients in a crowded space, and allow you to further showcase your value.

Sing Street: Adapt

Sing Street is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year that is sure to become a cult classic, and is about a boy named Conor growing up in Dublin during the 1980s. Conor’s family is struggling financially, and in order to save money, he must transfer to a free state school. His transition does not go smoothly and results in several encounters with the school bully. However, he learns to adapt and forms a band in order to impress an aspiring model that lives near the school, inviting her to be in their new music video. The band, named Sing Street, constantly adapts to the fast changing 1980s music landscape, which ultimately wins the band the favor of the school and allows Conor to overcome the bullies and win the girl.

How it relates to PR: As a PR pro, over your career, you will undoubtedly be put in situations that can be uncomfortable, like heading to a new school in an unknown environment. Working at a PR agency, you must be able to jump from client to client and from industry to industry with ease. Being able to adapt to change in the blink of an eye and the skill to make the best of any situation will brand you as a valuable asset to any client or organization.

Hocus Pocus: Learn from history’s past mistakes

With October right around the corner, how could I not include this classic! After moving to Salem, MA, 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 ignored the warnings of his peers and elders, creating a crisis that easily could have been avoided.

How it relates to PR: Dealing with large consumer brands on a daily basis here at SHIFT, we need to be aware of everything that’s going on in the food industry – even the negative – so that we can be sure not to repeat others’ past mistakes. For instance, DiGiorno pizza taught us last year the importance of very thoroughly researching trending hashtags before hopping in on the conversation (they mistakenly made light of domestic violence by failing to understand what the #WhyIStayed hashtag was all about). Putting the time in and doing the research is vital, whether you’re looking into trending hashtags or determining which reporters would be a fit for your client’s product.

Do you have a favorite movie that has taught you a lesson about PR? If so, share with us in the comments section below!

Taylor Gallagher
Account Manager


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