Breaking Bad’s Guide to Public Relations

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By Dan Capawana, Media Relations Specialist, R&J Public Relations

I may have been a little late to the party when it came to the hit AMC television hit series, Breaking Bad, but after a dedicated month I finally completed watching the fifth and final season last night.  For those who do not know, Breaking Bad is the story of a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and turns to cooking and selling crystal meth to leave his family with enough money before he dies.  What I did not know when I began watching the show was that I would find a link between it and public relations.  So without further ado, here are five lessons PR professionals can learn from Breaking Bad.

  1. Have a work/life balance.  There is an optimal balance between work and your outside life, and Walter White was not very good at finding that balance.  Walt regularly brought his work home with him, eventually to the point of making his family despise him.  In public relations, we constantly need to be “on,” checking emails, answering phone calls, keeping up with social media, etc.  But some time should be left aside each day to your family and yourself.  
  2. Know your clients.  Walt understood that his customers would expect the same quality blue meth in every batch (over 98% purity).  He believed that his product was the best, and he instilled this into Jesse to the point where the two of them became quite wealthy because of their attention to detail.  It is essential for PR professionals to know what our clients expect of us so we can meet and exceed their expectations.  Every client is different and careful attention to detail is necessary to keep them all happy. 
  3. Be prepared for time of crisis.  Crisis is the name of the game in Breaking Bad; none more so than in the final season.  Running out of gas, being hijacked, phones dying, people dying – there was crisis at every turn.  Walt is particularly good at thinking on his feet, which is also important in public relations.  Crises are inevitable and you don’t know when they are going to occur.  Knowing how to act and taking the proper protocols when the crisis arises is vital in PR. 
  4. It takes time to craft a story.  Some might say it took Breaking Bad a while to get going, but when it did it became the highest rated made-for-cable television series of all time.  PR professionals looking for that quick hit that will satisfy their clients for the time being may not be providing the real, long term value their client deserves. Working with the media to craft and develop a story that will portray their client in the best light is far more valuable than a quick hit. 
  5. Maintain relationships with key influencers.  Walt was able to quickly identify the key influencers in the crystal meth business, first Krazy 8s, then Tuco, Gus Fring, etc.  While he didn’t maintain those relationships very well (spoiler alert: they all end up dead), it is imperative to make, nurture and keep relationships in public relations.  The stronger your relationships with key influencers, the better and more frequent your hits for clients will be, and the more value you will deliver to your client.

Walter White may not have made the best public relations professional, but he did provide us with a few takeaways.  Let me know if you think I missed anything!   

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