Back to the Basics, Strategy & Tactics

3 Things Every PR Pro Can Learn From Breaking Bad

I’m late to the game. I started Breaking Bad recently, after being unable to avoid the throngs of friends, families and critics showering the series with praise. What put me over the edge and really prompted me to watch the show was a letter I found somewhere in the social web from the great Anthony Hopkins to Bryan Cranston, AKA Walter White. In the letter, Hopkins tells Cranston how he just finished the series after a marathon binge and calls Cranston’s work “the best acting I have seen – ever.” Wow. As a moonlighting screenwriter, I was floored by such an assertion and just had to queue up the Netflix. So, I started watching and yes, it is good, really, really good. Superb writing and acting. There are many existential lessons to be learned from this deep, clever show. For the purposes of this post I’ll explore three lessons from Breaking Bad for the PR Pro.

Results Are Achieved Through Planning And Preparation:

“Adjusting for inflation – good state college – adjusting for inflation, say $45,000 a year, two kids, four years of college…$360,000. Remaining mortgage on the home, $107,000. Home equity line, $30,000, that’s $137,000. Cost of living, food, clothing, utilities, say two grand a month? I mean, that should put a dent in it, anyway. 24K a year provides for, say, ten years. That’s $240,000, plus 360 plus 137…737. $737,000, that’s what I need. That is what I need. You and I both clear about 70 grand a week. That’s only ten and a half more weeks. Call it eleven. Eleven more drug deals and always in a public place from now on. It’s doable. Definitely doable”

The beginning of the series starts with a plan. Walter needs to make enough money cooking meth to support his family after he dies. He figures out exactly how much money he needs to leave them so they’ll want or need nothing after he’s gone. This is PR 101, guys. Plan, plan, plan! Media lists, release, pitches, tours, events – all of these are integral parts of PR and all of them require detailed planning  for them to be successful.

Identify an end result like Walter did with the money. Maybe it’s an above the fold piece in the New York Times or maybe a media tour with the CEO of your tech client and top tech bloggers in San Francisco. Once you know what the result you want is you can create a plan to get there. As cliche as it sounds, there really is no such thing as over planning.

Identifying and Targeting the Influencers:

In one episode of the show, Jesse, Walter’s “cooking” assistant decides to steal some of their product to sell it on the side. The challenge is that needs to get buyers to recognize him as a source of the product without alerting anyone to his rogue activity. What he does is an important lesson for the PR Pro. Jesse gets a couple of his buddies to go to an AA meeting and talk about how they are struggling to stay clean because the “Blue Sky” is back on the market and it’s superior high is hard to escape. This peaks the interest of the users in the meeting – the influencers – who can spread the word that the product is on the street and they know where to cop it.

As a PR Pro today we need to learn how to target and identify influencers. No longer should the buck stop with a reporter at the New York Times or a producer at CNBC. No, influencers come in many forms today. They are bloggers, tweeters and social advocates and they are just as important to helping you spread your message. Know their world and how to empower them to be influencers for your brand.

First Impressions Are Everything:

Walter is in a bad spot. The superb, top of the market meth that he’s just cooked has been stolen from Jesse in a failed attempt to land a distributor. The man who stole the drugs is Tuco, a maniacal distributor with a pension for brutal violence and ties to the Mexican cartel.  I take it back. Walter is in a REALLY bad spot. He has one chance to turn things around or risk going bust and failing his family. With little choice, Walter embark on a suicide mission to meet with Tuco and regain the upper hand as a valued supplier. He goes into the meeting understandably terrified and anxious and… KILLS it, almost literally. The impression he has on Tuco is so profound that instead of just getting his stolen drugs back, Walter lands a very lucrative distribution deal.

Obviously,  I’m not suggesting to use quite as extreme methods as Walter does to win his client. But when meeting with someone for the first time the first impression is everything. There are thousands of PR folks knocking on the doors of journalists and businesses looking for a PR shop. If you don’t wow, you don’t work. You don’t need to be as flashy or extreme as Walter was with Tuco but you do need to separate yourself from the masses. Walter goes into this meeting and manages to make a psychopathic drug dealer and killer think he needs Walter more than Walter – a 50 year old, terminally ill school teacher – needs him. That’s impressive.

What else can we take away from Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece and apply it to increase our PR savvy?


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