5 PR Lessons I Learned from Mr. T.
I didn't know it at the time, but many of the lessons that have shaped the man I am today came from the TV shows I watched as a kid. And, in some cases, those shows taught me a bit about my future career. Yes, I am saying that I learned PR lessons from '80s television.
Those of us growing up in the '80s will recall with great pleasure the "very special episodes" on our favorite sitcoms, full of heartwarming yet humorous life lessons. As a child growing up on an apple orchard miles from town, TV meant the 5 channels that came in via a rabbit ear antenna. But strangely, it was all we needed for hours and hours of Saturday morning cartoons and an endless number of sitcoms.
Of these, one of my favorites was "Silver Spoons." "Silver Spoons," starring the great Ricky Schroder as "Ricky," began running in 1982 when I was 10 years old and - during the 4th episode - I was introduced to a celebrity who would become a childhood hero: Mr. T.
Yes, I am mildly embarrassed to admit that some of my outlook on life was shaped by TV and Mr. T. But, here's the thing: TV influences everyone, and T was a megastar who was tough AND made a lot of sense (to me). Oh, and did I mention he was also funny?
Guest starring on Silver Spoons, Mr. T played a bodyguard hired by Ricky's father to protect him from a bully. In an inspired scene, Mr. T shows up to class to protect Ricky and has a run in with the teacher who inquires about his name. Mr. T's response was simply brilliant, "First name Mr., middle name 'period', and last name T!"
There you have it: a PR lesson from Mr. T. In that statement, T exemplified the art of staying on message. Sure, he could have offered a long answer about how his real name was Laurence Tread, but as a professional bodyguard, he became known as Mr. T. But those sorts of explanations didn't make sense for the Mr. T character or brand. He needed to have a clever, terse and funny response - and he delivered.
You can watch this very episode on YouTube today. The "First name Mr., middle name 'period', last name T!" scene can be found at the 11:57 mark.
Now, the art of staying on message is one that every PR Pro has to learn, but it's by no means the only PR lesson that one can learn from Mr. T. With that in mind, I've got a few more PR lessons from the great T lined up for you.
And, while reading the article, feel free to read the quotes out loud while trying to imitate Mr. T. I'd certainly appreciate it, and your co-workers will likely find it funny...
PR Lesson 1: Grammar and the Words You Choose Matter
"Love is a verb... and verbs show action"
- Mr T.
First off, Mr. T, let's be clear: "Love" is also a noun. But we get your point: love is not just a word, it's an action, and to truly love we must show it. OK, yes, that is a life lesson rather than a PR lesson, but the PR lesson is about grammar. Mr. T is explaining to us that grammar matters. He had a true hold on words and used them well. While he could be brief, he was on message and his words usually made sense, and clearly stated his intended point in a manner that was easily understood even by children.
PR Lesson 2: Don't Miss a Big Opportunity Based on Cost
"You gonna lose a deal over $35? That's chump change! My lunch cost $35!"
- Mr T.
The PR lesson here is simple: some things are not free, so don't lose a story or a deal based on minor expenses. Sure, none of us want to pay for our PR - earned media is our holy grail - but we should never think of it as free: earned media is earned. With that in mind, we always need to be willing to absorb a cost, whether it be it dollars or time, in order to get the results we want. If something is costing more than you expected but the value of the story is high, don't miss out. As an example, when I was in consumer product PR, I cannot tell you how many times I rushed to FedEx to get my package into the last overnight shipment to make sure my product was in the hands of a producer or reporter the next morning. The cost was high, both in shipping fees and time spent rushing to the airport terminal, but the reward - often as awesome as a Today Show feature - was almost always worth the trouble!
PR Lesson 3: Don't Hate Your Competition
"No, I don't hate Balboa, but I pity the fool."
- Mr T.
This is fantastic Mr. T advice from "Rocky III." In PR we have competition, but we should never be haters and should always take the high road. When you are in a situation where you are neck in neck with the competition for coverage, or always being featured side by side in a story, never hate. Just love them for making you a more competitive person, and then pity them because you are awesome and you'll obviously win. Well, I think you're awesome, anyway... I mean, I don't know you, but I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt.
PR Lesson 4: Stay Focused
"I got no time for the jibba-jabba."
- Mr T.
Yes, Mr. T, this is very good advice. The life of a PR pro is very busy; we do not have time for distractions or "jibba-jabba." We need to stay focused and save the idle conversation for when we have time. And, as any good PR pro knows, jibba-jabba can often lead to over sharing and going off message. We certainly don't want that.
PR Lesson 5: Face Your Fears
"I ain't getting on no plane, Hannibal!"
- Mr T.
On the A-Team (another great TV show of the 80's) Mr. T learned one lesson time and time again: face your fears. You see, B. A. Baracus, his character on the show, was terrified of flying on planes, and the other characters often tricked him into flying, and every time T realized it wasn't so bad. He didn't usually admit it when things worked out, but you could see he knew it inside. And, I always believed he was proud that he'd tackled a fear. PR folks need to do that everyday. Our fears are wide and varied, ranging from fear of rejection when pitching to fears of public speaking or failure on a project, but we can, and must overcome them. PR Lesson: face the fear head on. Thank you MR. T.
So there you have it, 5 lessons. Actually, it's 6 PR lessons if you include what we learned when Mr. T explained his name. And, I don't think these 6 PR lessons come close to completely capturing Mr. T's wisdom. I think I could find 100 more examples.
Perhaps I'll call Mr. T and see if he'd like to write a PR lesson book with me. I think I'd call it "Mr. T Tackles PR with his best friend Marc." Boyhood dreams realized!
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