PR Lessons from Theatre

By: Kaitlin Steele, Account Supervisor at PRLab 

November 19, 2018

When most people think of ways to prepare for a career in public relations, theatre isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind.  As I near the end of my graduate program, though, I’m still finding ways that my decade of acting has gotten me ready to take on the world of PR.  Here for your benefit are just a few of the lessons that have stuck with me.

Know your audience.  This lesson has never been so immediate for me as standing under a spotlight, telling a joke I was sure would get laughs and instead being greeted with awkward silence.  That’s the blessing and the curse of live theatre:  you get to see your audience’s reaction in real time.  It’s vital to know that a reference college students would love will flop with elderly season ticketholders – and that knowledge is just as important in creating key messages as it is while rehearsing a show.  When I’m working on a new PR plan or campaign, I always picture myself looking out on those rows of seats and plan for who’s going to be sitting in them.

Have the courage to be creative. Putting new ideas into the world can be nerve-wracking.  Even so, the most rewarding parts I’ve played have been the ones that challenged me to step past my self-consciousness—the kind of parts that would fall flat if I didn’t make creative, potentially embarrassing choices.  There was a lot of trial and error in learning to play an unbalanced seer or a promiscuous hippie, just like it takes a lot of brainstorming to come up with the kind of new campaign ideas that will fit your client and their goals. I’ve found that it’s next to impossible to get to the truly exciting ideas if I’m too afraid of looking silly to put them out there.

Tell an honest story. Honesty might sound like a strange concept when applied to pretending to be a different person, but it’s the key to a show that will connect with people.  It’s easy to tell when someone is just phoning in their performance, saying the words without meaning them.  On the other hand, when actors speak from a real, human place—when Romeo is ugly-crying or a kid in a holiday show is overflowing with excitement for Christmas—it’s impossible to look away.  Likewise, the public can tell when a brand is just paying lip-service or trying to be something it’s not to look good. As PR professionals, we have to find the stories that a brand can tell and be true to its identity.  Those will be more powerful than anything we could make up.

The show must go on. Things rarely go according to plan.  I’ve got an unending list of stories about things that have gone wrong during a show: an important prop forgotten backstage; an actor with a huge cockroach on his leg in the middle of a scene; three cast members leaving the show a week before opening night.  No matter what, you have to keep calm and think on your feet to keep the show running smoothly.  In the world of PR it’s impossible to predict everything that will go wrong or impact your work, but in the modern culture of constant information and connection there’s no time for panic.  If you can keep a level head and know the tools you have available, you can handle most things life throws at you.