PR lessons from Harvey Specter

If you’ve seen Suits then I know you’ll probably understand where I’m going with this. If not, line it up on Netflix to see what all the fuss is about, it’s definitely worth a watch. The cutting quips and smart strategy of Harvey Specter are legendary among the television show’s cult following.

Fictional character Harvey Specter, a senior partner at a top New York law firm, wipes the floor with just about everyone in the hit drama.  The show follows Harvey’s trials and tribulations when he takes on a new associate,  the genius who never attended Harvard, Mike Ross. Not only is the show funny, but it dishes out advice and life lessons that could accurately apply across several industries. PR and law often cross paths, and we could all learn a few lessons from this savvy character.

These famous Harvey quotes offer some valuable PR lessons…

‘I don’t play the odds, I play the man’

Learn to read people, body language and behaviour. In PR this can give a good idea on how to behave and react to someone and how to approach situations or pitch. Everyone’s different and a bespoke approach is needed when talking to clients.

‘The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.’

I’ve never found a short cut to success. Never! Everything I’ve achieved has been earned, there are no short cuts. Put in the hard work and always be thorough. In PR the devil is in the detail. Put in the time to nurture skills, relationships and carefully build a reputation.

‘Just because a pretty girl gives you a story, doesn’t mean it is true.’

Always fact check. Whether it’s a client, journalist or something you believe to be too good to be true. Take particular care with crisis situations and journalists looking for a juicy news story. Sorry journo’s, us savvy PR folk know the ways you try to trick us, we’re on to you!

‘What are your choices when someone puts a gun to your head? You take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or, you call their bluff. Or, you do any of a hundred and forty six different things.’

There is always another approach, option, idea, or solution. If you think you are backed against a wall, buy some time and room to think clearly without being under pressure or consult your peers. More heads are better than one when it comes to problem solving.

‘Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.’

Negotiation skills are integral to public relations because you are always liaising with people. With journalists you are pitching in stories and with clients from start to finish you are working together to achieve the same goal. Clients will always question ideas.  It’s all about compromise and knowing which battles to pick. Diplomacy is key. If you are sure of your idea or opinion, back it up with facts, figures and examples to show the logic behind it. A client should place trust in the thoughts and opinions of the expert they hired.

‘Now when I got here, I dominated. They thought I worked 100 hours a day. Now, no matter what time I get in, nobody questions my ability to get the job done. Get it through your head. First impressions last. You start behind the eight ball, you’ll never get in front.’

First impressions do last. If you start on the back foot, you’re behind before you even get going. To get ahead pay attention to the minor details, be on time, wear the suit and be enthusiastic. The right attitude goes a long way. This advice isn’t just for people starting out, it applies at every stage in a career!

‘I don’t get lucky. I make my own luck.’

Press releases won’t print themselves. Events won’t run themselves. Creating news-worthy stories and images with a cracking pitch will help you get that much-needed coverage. Being prepared and organised can save you from a catastrophe disrupting an event. A belt and braces approach creates resilience.

‘Anyone can do my job, but no one can be me.” 

Avoid the obvious here, everyone’s replaceable. It’s very hard to be irreplaceable in a world where careers are converging. Public relations professionals are in the tough position where everyone thinks that they can do their job. But can they do it well? PR takes finesse, knowing certain nuances, being able to quickly adapt and speak many ‘languages’.  Work out your strengths, what makes you valuable but also know your limitations and weaknesses. It’s your personality, adaptability and ability to handle a situation that sets you apart.

‘I don’t know what imaginary world you’re skipping in right now but it’s time you joined us in the real world.’

Be realistic. If you have no budget then David Beckham is highly unlikely to come and open the local leisure centre. Idea generation and problem solving have to be realistic to meet everyone’s expectations. Think through the logistics of implementation.

‘I refuse to answer that on the grounds that I don’t want to.’

Crisis statements are tricky. A delicate balance of keeping all parties involved satisfied. Think very carefully before refusing to comment, it could be the only opportunity.

‘Loyalty is a two-way street. If I’m asking for it from you, then you’re getting it from me.’

Honesty is really important in PR in so many different aspects. But, it’s integral when drafting crisis statements. If a PR professional doesn’t know the full story it will be very hard for them to put together a proper response. The truth will always out so honesty is always the best policy. It’s all about the wording.

Thanks Harvey for all the top advice!

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