8 PR lessons from ‘The Office’

When the hit British TV show “The Office” was imported for an American
audience, purists were skeptical. It didn’t take long for those skeptics
to become believers thanks to Steve Carell’s portrayal of the
eccentrically lovable Michael Scott, who made even the most bumbling
bosses seem brainy.

The show comes to a close on Thursday evening, when NBC airs its series finale of the comedy hit after nine seasons.

Marking the occasion, PR Daily thought it only appropriate that
we pay a visit to Scranton, Pa., and the characters behind our favorite
paper distributor by pulling out a few of the many lessons that PR pros
can take with them long into the show’s inevitable syndication:

1. Embrace the awkward. “The Office” was built on awkward moments and uncomfortable pauses, says The Boston Globe.
John Krasinski, who plays Jim Halpert on the show, has made a career
out of reacting to them. As PR people, you’ll be faced with your share
of similarly awkward moments in your career. It’s best to tackle them
head on rather than letting them fester and risking that situations will
just get too weird.

2. Take charge of your destiny. Remember when Michael Scott left
Dunder Mifflin and launched the Michael Scott Paper Co. in season five?
That took guts. Although he eventually rejoined Dunder Mifflin, he did
so on his terms. Such gumption is often necessary in this competitive
business landscape, especially for the industry’s broad pool of
consultants and freelancers.

3. Learn to seize opportunities. Dunder Mifflin was only a
fictional paper company when the show began in 2005. Today, there’s an
actual brand of Dunder Mifflin paper you can buy, thanks to Quill.com.
The company, owned by Staples, launched a licensing deal with NBC in
2011 to sell Dunder Mifflin paper. Quill’s Paul Bessinger told Advertising Age that the company has big plans. “We think this thing can stand on its own and become an evergreen brand,” he said.

4. Value work/life balance. Achieving a healthy work/life balance can be nearly impossible for some. New research shows
that 39 percent of employees worldwide say they have a solid work/life
balance. No need to worry about balance at Dunder Mifflin. Some might
say the employees skewed a bit too heavily on the life side. At the
other end of the spectrum (as usual) was Dwight Schrute, who ran a beet
farm and bed and breakfast when he wasn’t selling paper. That’s more of a
work/work balance.

5. Be careful with those interoffice relationships. First, Angela
was secretly with Dwight. Then she was not so secretly with Andy. Then
while she was openly with Andy she was, again, secretly with Dwight.
Office romances can turn tricky pretty quickly. Just remember: For every
Jim and Pam there are a dozen or more Michael and Jans.

6. Remember that customer service is key. I’ve heard several
people in the last couple of years claim that customer service and
public relations are interchangeable. Seemingly small problems can
become amplified by social media into big problems and—in some cases—PR
nightmares. The Dunder Mifflin sales team always prided itself on
customer service. They weren’t always the cheapest, but you’d always get
a real person on the phone—even if that real person was Dwight. Michael
may have been a bumbling boss, but his customer service skills were
impeccable. There’s something to be said for someone who remembers the
little stuff.

7. Don’t forget community relations. Though the show was filmed in California, Scranton was its setting. Krasinski recently told the AP
that the town was itself a character on the show. The writers used real
settings from the town, including Cooper’s Seafood House, Poor
Richard’s Pub, and the Steamtown mall. Those have become tourist
destinations for the show’s devotees. The production team and cast even
held their wrap party in Scranton at the town’s minor league baseball
stadium. Which leads to our final point …

8. Leave an enduring legacy.
So often when we exit our client
meetings or leave the companies we work for, it’s with a whimper. Maybe a
few back pats, some drinks at the nearest dive—or you straight up Jerry Maguire it.
Keep in mind that you have a great opportunity to leave a lasting
impression on that team between giving notice and walking out the door
for a final time. If you want to consider the legacy that “The Office”
will leave, take a look at the new genres it spawned. The mockumentary
style made famous by Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest with their movies
and by Garry Shandling with “The Larry Sanders Show” was made mainstream
by “The Office.” It’s tough to say whether shows like “Parks and
Recreation” or “Modern Family” would exist without those predecessors.

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