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What We’ve Learned from ABC Hit Series, ‘Scandal’ The do’s and don’ts of Public Relations and Media Tactics

By Dawn Angelique Roberts and Emiley Mallory

Tonight, ABC’s hit series ‘Scandal’ returns  with a brand new episode, the first of a two-part winter season finale that’s sure to have everyone glued to their television sets.

But for media and PR professionals, “Scandal” isn’t just a TV Show…It’s also a classroom of sorts. While you’ll probably never find yourself having to cover up your affair with the President of the United States or dealing with what can charitably be called “Daddy Issues,” there is a lot that public relations and media professionals can take from the show and use in their work.

Here are a few tips NABJ Associate Member Task Force Chair, Dawn Angelique Roberts, and NABJ member Emiley Mallory, learned from the show that PR/media professionals should apply in their jobs.

Do understand that it’s all about presentation. In Season one, episode one we saw war hero Sully St. James decide that love was more important than taking a murder charge. In an attempt to conceal his sexual orientation, Sully willingly went down as an accessory to the murder of his best friend. In Sully’s mind, the media couldn’t know that the most decorated war hero since Vietnam was a gay man. Olivia Pope and Associates had confirmation of his alibi from footage of a street camera with Sully and his lover, but he refused. As the show closed we see Sully standing before a podium, confessing his pride before a sea of reporters. Surrounded by his fellow soldiers in support, with American flag in tow, Abby could be heard saying from the sideline, “the other soldiers added a nice touch don’t you think?”

Yes, Abby. They did.

Do develop a relationship with reporters. It is not enough to make a call or send a press release. Your resources are your lifeline, so the relationship itself is a give and take you should take special care to nurture and maintain.

Speaking of which…DON’T lie to reporters. Again, in season one, everyone’s favorite gladiator, Harrison, had to give Quinn some life advice about her budding relationship with Gideon, a news reporter. “You’re going to have to lie to him to protect a client and we don’t lie to reporters. Because once you do, there’s no going back. You killed the one thing you protect at all costs: your credibility.” Well, there’s that.

Nothing is off the Record. A Reporter is a Reporter. The relationship between Cyrus and his husband James is an example of the tightrope that PR professionals have to walk when it comes to their relationships with reporters.  A reporter’s job is to tell the story, while the PR person’s job is to protect their client and tell their story in the most advantageous way possible. Your client is relying on you to remember that difference.

Do know that “everybody loves a hero.” This is the line Olivia gave a certain dictator, General Benicio Florez, as a forewarning to return his children to his wife, Carolina Florez. After learning his wife’s “kidnapping” was actually an attempt to leave him, Florez takes their children, leaving both Carolina and Olivia dismayed. Bound for return to his home country, Olivia confronts the general. She informs him just how much reporters love a human interest story, particularly one like Carolina’s. His wife, she continues, will write memoirs, appear on talk shows and more importantly, threaten his political career by becoming not only an inspiring advocate for women’s rights, but a hero. Some of the best journalism ever written comes from feature stories. Spotting a unique story (or a unique way to tell a story that’s already been told) is a skill every journalist and every public relations professional should keep in their arsenal.

Do mock interviews. Practice makes perfect. Prepping your client or colleague for the kinds of questions they will be asked in interviews is an integral part of great media training. It’s an advantage for your home team to anticipate and address what “they” (the media in question) are going to say before they say it. You can never be too prepared!

Branding and Image is everything. Olivia’s brand and image helps her attract high profile clients.

Along those lines, do hire a communications expert. Olivia Pope & Associates is known for managing crisis and crisis communications. They are experts in the business.

Feel free to add your own helpful media tips to this list in the comments section, and tune in after next week’s ‘Scandal’ finale when NABJ Digital plans to share what journalists learned from this season’s episodes. Until next time…

It’s handled.

Dawn Angelique Roberts is a media relations specialist, event manager, social media enthusiast and owner of KD Communications Group, a full service public relations firm. Emiley Mallory, a recent graduate of Trinity Washington University, is an entertainment freelance writer. 

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Home of the National Association of Black Journalists's (NABJ's) Digital Journalism Task Force

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