|The Dude Abides: Lessons in PR from The Big Lebowski
By: Kimberly Shrack
In a not-at-all-embarrassing confession, I have seen The Big Lebowski no less than 100 times. While you may argue that there are better ways I could have spent that time, I disagree. While buried in White Russians and rolling, there are a few PR lessons we can learn from the laziest man in Los Angeles.
Shaping an Identity
All of the Dude’s problems stem from a case of mistaken identity — which is ironic, because in terms of PR his identity is pretty strong. Don’t let his laid-back attitude fool you: the Dude’s identity has been carefully crafted to reflect his reality as a man whose only form of identification is a Ralph’s card.
Like the Dude, an organization’s identity is the manifestation of how it views itself and how it wants to be viewed. This includes its name (the Dude, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into that whole brevity thing), logo and symbols (White Russian), and key messages (pacifism and takin’ er easy) among others. So why is this important? Building an identity is the first step in reputation management — and is the only part that can truly be controlled. So take a lesson from the Dude: before you begin tackling your communications plan, shape a strong, honest, and consistent identity. This will affect your brand’s image, and, ultimately, your reputation — and it may prevent you from losing the rug that really ties your room together.
React Quickly — But With All the Information
In a time when even a customer complaint can rapidly evolve into public outrage via social media, reacting quickly to a crisis is key. But so is having all the information.
While all crises are different, the initial response should always be quick, accurate, and consistent. Unfortunately, sometimes being quick can interfere with accuracy. When trying to retrieve a stolen briefcase full of money, the Dude notices a brand-new car parked in the street outside the home of the suspected thief. In an effort to react swiftly and demonstrate his control of the situation, the Dude’s bowling buddy Walter begins bashing in the windows of this beautiful machine, only to find out the car belonged to neighbor across the street. What seemed clear-cut turned out to be a little more complicated, and this is all too common in a crisis situation.
This scenario, while extreme, really isn’t too far off. There have been situations where, in an effort to gain control of the story, organizations have reacted with incorrect information. While prompt response does help to position your organization as a credible source, this credibility takes a hit if your information is wrong. When you issue the initial crisis statement, remember it doesn’t always need to include new (or conjectured) information; it just needs to present what you know and be forthcoming about what you don’t. This protects you from over- or under-reacting to a situation — and may prevent retribution from a very angry neighbor.
Know Your Field, In-N-Out
When the Dude isn’t giving his landlord notes on his one-man show or isn't on the hunt for a millionaire’s run-away wife, he is in the bowling alley. Or explaining league rules to Walter. Or analyzing the competing teams’ strengths and weaknesses. Or listening to a bowling sounds mix tape. Point being, he lives and breathes bowling, and has a keen sense of what his competitors are doing — and this propelled him to the league championship.
Now I’m not suggesting that if you work in PR you should spend all your spare time reviewing case studies and engaging your colleagues in intense debates. What I am saying is that if you want to be ahead of the communications curve, you need to know your industry. I mean really know it. You need to know the trends, the issues, the rules, the market and — most importantly — how to use it to your advantage. This will improve your ability to position your organization in a crowded space, and give you added value in sit-downs with the C-suite.
So you see, those 12,000-plus minutes spent reveling in the genius of the Cohen brothers was not in vain. It has taught me valuable lessons about my field that I could only learn from Jeff Bridges and John Goodman. Think that’s a stretch? That’s just, like, your opinion, man.
Kimberly Shrack is a PR pro based in Philadelphia, specializing in writing and content development. She has worked in communication for a variety of industries including technology, travel, art, and healthcare. Follow her on Twitter at @kjshrack.
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