Sunayan Shahani
Guest Article

Seven PR lessons I learnt from Pride & Prejudice

Sunayan Shahani explains how the over two centuries old romantic saga holds relevance for brand marketers and PR folk today.

This year marks 208 years since the release of Jane Austen’s novel – Pride & Prejudice. Yes, I just finished reading Pride & Prejudice, or P&P, as I fondly like to refer to one of the world’s most famous title alliterations. Yes, I know I am late to the Austen party.

How can a romantic saga written two centuries ago, find relevance today? I have 10 words for you – 442 books adaptations and counting, 17 film adaptations and counting.

Sunayan Shahani
Sunayan Shahani

So, join me as I draw some pertinent precepts for brand marketers and PR folk from this novel. On cursory observation, it is a love story. But on a deeper level, it is about that one thing most brands spend millions of dollars building – reputation. After all, the working title of this book was First Impressions.

Lesson 1:

Create your own brand and wear it on your sleeve

We all remember the character Geet’s rambunctious declaration Main Apni Favourite Hoon in Jab We Met. Well, it turns out Austen was made of the same grain. No points for guessing which character she deemed the purest, sweetest, prettiest, and kindest. The one who was loved by all and who went on to marry a rich, handsome man. Clue: The first daughter of Mr Bennet. She was not the protagonist, but the protagonist loved her too.

As a PR professional, one does all it takes to build a reputation for people and brands. But it’s imperative at some point to look at what you bring to the table and create an identity for yourself. That’s what will set you apart.

Treat yourself like a brand, carve a niche, write a tagline for yourself, and use in-person conversations and social media to put it out there. People are anyways judging you. You might as well control the narrative.

Lesson 2:

Proficiency in communication how much you read

Austen made one point very clear – when it came to judging someone, size does matter. The size of their library, that is.

The main characters of P&P – be it Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Bennet, Mr Bingely, Mr Darcy, and even the sidekicks – Mr Bennet, Mary Bennet, did one thing in common. They read.

There can be no PR without reading, of course. We are mandated to read the news, especially when it is related to our industry. But to become excellent communication professionals, merely reading news is not enough.

Reading about a wide variety of topics, from neuroscience to anthropology, can give you keen insight into consumer behaviour. I would go as far as to say that reading industry news is hygiene; it’s what you read beyond that adds gravitas.

Lesson 3:

The way you handle a crisis says a lot about you

The way Mr Darcy handled the Wickham-Lydia crises spoke a lot about his integrity, agility and wisdom.

I clearly remember my first client crisis. The client was a reputed elevator manufacturer, and its product – a lift installed in a hospital that had stopped working, while a patient was being taken to the emergency ward. The patient died.

On initial investigation, it was revealed that the lift service maintenance contract had expired some time ago, and the hospital hadn’t renewed it. Whose fault is it in this case? Doesn’t matter. You give the facts and apologise, nevertheless.

Lesson 4:

Write it down

Have a story idea? Write it down. Read it. Rewrite it. That’s how Darcy communicated some very difficult facts with Elizabeth.

Writing helps you clarify your thoughts, sieve through the junk and get to the main point.

Don’t pick up the phone on a journalist, or your client and waffle on. Also, be succinct. Remember, Darcy was one of the two men hitting on Elizabeth. You are the 345th PR person pitching a story to the journalist/influencer.

Lesson 5:

Be persistent. But also get the hint

One of the paramount differences between Darcy and Mr Collins was the former’s ability to respect Elizabeth for her word.

Once you have zeroed in on a communication angle, you should go all guns blazing. But once shot down by a journalist, move on. A good journalist will always give you a reason why it doesn’t cut it. Respect that. There may be times when the editor might shoot it down even after a journalist has filed a story. The best thing is to find the next story and start afresh.

Lesson 6:

Keep your enemies closer

While not many people point this out, and maybe this is only my observation, one can’t ignore Darcy’s Machiavelli intentions in getting Wickham married to Lydia. He understood what motivates Wickham and offered him just that to get him out of the way.

It’s crucial we understand the competitor brands as much as we understand our own. What channels do they use to talk to their stakeholders, how do they handle crises, what events they speak at, and what causes they spearhead?

Use tools like Rival IQ, Awario, and Google Alerts to keep a close eye on your brand’s competitors. It will help you design a wholesome and pointed communication strategy.

Lesson 7

Reputation is everything

It was Darcy’s house help who vouched for his character that led to Elizabeth’s changing perceptions. Whether you follow point number one or not, make sure you treat your office staff, juniors, and colleagues with dignity. Don’t hoard knowledge; share it with people down the line. The best PR people are those who are generous with – advice, contacts, tips, suggestions and food. One person’s perception of you is contributing to your overall reputation.

The author is PR director, BBH India, Publicis Commerce & Publicis In-Motion.

Cover photo by Elaine Howlin on Unsplash