This year marks the 25-year anniversary of “Seinfeld,” the ultimate “show about nothing” that became quite something. Though you may think of Jerry and the crew as a bunch of laughable slackers, in watching many episodes (several times!) there are some business takeaways that apply to public relations. Read on and see if you agree.
Read the social cues. Seinfeld explored the minutiae of relationships, and much of his comedy questioned etiquette or social discourse. For example, which conversations are too important to be made via cell? (or via text, as we’d say now) How many dates must you have been on before you need to end a relationship in person? These questions can be applied to the proper handling of client-agency situations as well. Can you read the signs of a faltering relationship? Do you know which situations can be addressed in a call or which demand the “personal touch?” It may take some finessing, but the better able you are to read between the lines of an email or understand the subtext of a conversation, the better decisions you will make. As Jerry once astutely observed, “The fabric of society is very complex.”
What goes around comes around. On the show, the characters extend themselves to help others fairly grudgingly, or they ignore the needs of anyone outside their own world, though in a hilarious way. Anyone remember George knocking down an older lady in a walker to escape a house fire? Or Kramer, Jerry, and Elaine trying to force-feed cookies to an unconscious man? The characters repeatedly live up to our low expectations of them, and in the end, they pay the price. The same is true in the business world. A good turn may come back to you years later, but a burned bridge can haunt your career forever.
Healthy curiosity has its limits. A good agency-client relationship breeds curiosity and should come with the ability to discuss issues without destructive, “Seinfeldian” obsessing. (As when Jerry spends an entire episode torturing himself to figure out why Audrey, the dessert-loving girlfriend, won’t sample the best apple pie in town.) But curiosity has limits, and we should know them. There’s a time to push in a productive way and a time to accept the circumstances or decisions of others.
Worlds really do collide. George’s famous hand-wringing over certain people in his life meeting others is funny, but it also calls into question how PR agencies (or anyone) chooses to staff interactions. Whom to bring to the new business presentation? Who to lead the account? To whom will we assign the “difficult call?” Good leaders know how to read each situation and “futurecast” outcomes before strategizing a next move. They also know that business gaffes are rarely as funny as anything that happened on “Seinfeld.”