Lessons I Learned in PR from C.J. Cregg on The West Wing

Lessons I Learned in PR from C.J. Cregg on The West Wing

By D+P Team

Before Scandal’s Olivia Pope and Eli Gold on The Good Wife, there was C.J. Cregg, press secretary for President Jeb Barlet on The West Wing.  And for seven seasons, C.J. knocked it out of the park.

C.J. Cregg doesn’t mess around.

Smart, sharp and media-savvy, C.J. expertly steered a political administration through health scandals, terrorist plots, military coups, filibusters, State of the Unions, and a plethora of mundane holiday celebrations.  Fifteen years after the iconic show’s original air date, C.J. still makes me proud to work in PR.  She was loyal, wise and a heck of a speaker.

With that, here’s a quick rundown of important PR lessons I learned from C.J. Cregg and The West Wing, all still applicable today.  Some lessons I impart on clients, others I keep for myself.

Lesson One: Media Training – Blocking and Bridging

In media training, we teach our clients to ‘block and bridge.’  That is, to redirect an unwelcome or unproductive question [block] and transition to an area that fits their agendas [bridge].  By using connecting phrases, you can bring an errant topic back around to your realm of expertise, and drive your key messages home.  Never one to fall for a trick question, C.J. is the master of the ‘block and bridge,’ as demonstrated in this press briefing:

Consider it blocked and bridged.

Lesson Two: Research, Research, Research

As an agency with a diverse portfolio, we cover a lot of ground.  In a typical day, we could pitch anything from trends in retirement savings for Baby Boomers to the destructive impact palm oil farming on the world’s orangutan population, and everything in between.

It is imperative to immerse ourselves in our client’s work.  Knowledge of a pitch can make or break a media opportunity for your client.  That’s why we do our research.  C.J. sums up this sentiment, when she is charged with leading press briefings on changes to the United States Census, something she admittedly knows little about:

“I’ve been playing it fast and loose there’s no doubt about it, but sitting in on some of the meetings we’ve been having, and reading the briefing book last night, I have to say that the Census is starting to sound to me like it’s, well, important… And, I’ve come to the realization that if I’m gonna be talking about it all week, it’s probably best that I understand what I’m saying.”

Lesson Three: Establishing a good work/life balance

PR is a demanding profession.  Events don’t run themselves and crises don’t stick to regular business hours.  To keep our heads above water, C.J. taught us that it is essential to establish a good work/life balance.  So, even though we may be shooting off emails long into the wee hour of the night, or revising a statement even later, at D+P we take time for ourselves – we run, we volunteer, we go to Happy Hour.

Crushed it.

Lesson Four: In a crisis, we’re your first phone call.

Like C.J. Cregg is to President Bartlet, we at D+P are our client’s biggest advocates when a crisis occurs.  We help them stay ahead of the story and in control of the way the media perceives you.  No winging it– we work side by side to establish the way forward and get our clients back in business.  And, if the nightmare scenarios ever become a reality, we will work to protect their reputation without fail.

“Anytime you’re into something and you don’t know what, you don’t keep it from me. I’m your first phone call. I’m your first line of defense. You have to let me protect you and you have to let me protect the President.”

Lesson Five: Remember to have fun, because you love your job.

OK, I admit it: PR can be stressful.  In fact, CareerCast.com ranked PR at #6 on their list of Most Stressful Jobs.  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  It’s what I do and it’s what I love.  So, when I land that piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer or The New York Times, or when my client nails their press conference, I take the time to celebrate… just like C.J. Cregg:

“The Times piece turned out great!”

So remember– all seven seasons of The West Wing are readily available to anyone with a Netflix account, I can’t help but strongly urge you to binge-watch this iconic political drama if you need a break from holiday parties and last minute shopping.

D+P Team

D+P Team

We are Devine + Partners, communications and content experts who specialize in public relations, issues management and content creation.