By Tanaya Ghosh, Communications Co-Chair
While watching the much-lauded film, “Chef,” I noticed that a lot of things actually made sense about the film. Not just the accuracy of the culinary scenes (which, too, were spot-on), but also a few aspects related to public relations. Being a PR strategist but also having worked on the journalism side, I found myself cheering the film on for some very important points it successfully illustrated. My hope is that this will help those not in our industry to better understand a few things about our work as well.
Not to fear, I won’t give away any critical parts of the movie. “Chef” is not strictly for foodies, because the human element of the film also resonates strongly. But seeing as we are PR folks who view the world through our uniquely strategic lenses, here are the 3 ways “Chef” draws attention to some important PR truths:
1. The Dangers, Benefits and Viral Powers of Social Media
When a prominent public figure presses the “Tweet” button after furiously typing up a heated 140-character-or-less message, all hell can break loose. Especially when they don’t fully understand their audience, nor the intricacies of how the social media platform works. That’s where we, the PR experts, step in and help the person or organization figure it all out before sending something out into the Twitterverse (and beyond) that can never be undone. The film also clearly conveys the potential for PR greatness via social media, but with one caveat: the little kid running the food truck’s PR doesn’t need the strategic planning that a majority of organizations do, because the average organization doesn’t have massive notoriety to begin with… as opposed to this world-famous chef, who is the main character in the movie. Most people actually need someone to help them maximize the potential for social media success, and those who scoff at the idea severely underestimate the task at hand. So no, managing a personality or brand on social media is not as easy as the film makes it look. But it can be as nightmarish as the film portrays.
2. Good PR Often Goes Unnoticed
Oftentimes, “good PR” means being proactive and keeping your clients out of the news, when there is potential for them to be in the media for the wrong reasons.You want to squash an inaccurate and negative story before it gets out there, and be able to tell the organization’s side of the story before a one-sided attack on you our your organization has a chance to get out there. So really, great PR is often what doesn’t get written about, and what you don’t actually see. Furthermore, the public is quick to point fingers to and put the blame on “bad PR” when a crisis hits an individual or organization. : 1. CEO’s and other leaders chose not to heed the PR team’s advice early on and went “rogue”; 2. It’s an operational or service issue that is not rooted in PR; 3. The person or organization didn’t have a proper PR team in place until the crisis got out of hand. If you come running to us, like in the movie, when it’s already hit the fan, we realistically can’t undo the damage so quickly, if at all. We may work wonders with our expertise and media know-how, but unfortunately not even we are full-breed magicians.
3. Egos Must Take A Back Seat to Bridge the Communication Gap
Whether it’s a food critic or business media, sometimes writers don’t know the full story of their subject, and they unfortunately go for the angle that will make the biggest headlines, or boost their image as a discerning critic, for example. As the film shows, understanding that communication is necessary for both parties is essential for mutual success, instead of allowing egos to make us defensive, confrontational and uncooperative. The best PR folks are those who understand both sides of the PR-journalist relationship and try to find a mutually beneficial way to work together for the long run. Instead of secretly despising reporters, some of us not only like getting to know them, but also respect their craft and understand what they need to do their job well. This is one way that coming from a journalism background helps you in PR. If you haven’t worked on the journalism side, I’d suggest meeting with a journalist friend and really picking their brain on what the working relationship is like for them. Ask them honest questions, and expect honest answers. Ask them what irks them, and what catches their eye. It will open your eyes to the world beyond your and your clients’ interests, and help you do your job better, as well.
And now, for the one PR lie in “Chef”…
The publicist portrayed in the film was a stereotypical, comedic caricature that was a misrepresentation of the majority of people in the industry. Yes, we are fast-moving and efficient, and yes, we think out of the box and often urge the client to go beyond their comfort zone. But we ultimately do want what’s best for the client, instead of pushing half-baked ideas on them as portrayed in “Chef.” You’ll have to see the movie, but I can tell you this much… not all PR folks are pushy, high-strung, or just plain crazy. We build relationships with clients, their audiences and the media. And those of us who succeed in the long run are the people who have mastered the art of listening, interpersonal communication and relationships.
Tanaya Ghosh, a PRSA-LA Communications Chair, has worked as a PR and branding strategist since graduating with an M.A. in Strategic Public Relations from USC Annenberg. To connect with Tanaya go here, or follow her blog, Tanaya’s Table. You can also follow her on Twitter @TanayaG.