Thursday, June 17, 2010

7 PR lessons from watching 'Chopped'

I'm a fan of the Food Network show, Chopped. My wife and I have come to enjoy the high-energy and passion for the culinary arts that contestants display.

The show's premise is pretty simple: "four up-and-coming chefs take a selection of everyday ingredients into an extraordinary three-course meal. After each course, a contestant gets 'chopped' until the last man or woman left standing claims victory. Each week, a rotating panel of culinary elite judges...decide whose dishes shine the brightest and award the winner $10,000."
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After watching the show for a while, I realized that hidden among the mystery ingredients are important lessons for public relations professionals:
  1. You never know what's in the basket. One of the cool things about the show is the mystery baskets. On a recent episode the ingredients that contests had to create with included papadum, bitter melon, turbot, satsuma mikan, purple cauliflower, and wasabi peas among the other things that I could actually identify. In PR, daily surprises come in many forms such as changes in leadership, customer service issues, crisis, internal strife, leadership indecisiveness, etc. you should be ready to adapt and change.
  2. You need prior knowledge and preparation to win. The contestants give bio information and talk about their culinary expertise. The PR pros that win are the ones that are experts in the field. We should be the go to professionals for organizational strategic communication counsel. We should continue to hone our skills with professional development. If we're not, we're doing it wrong.
  3. Don't underestimate your competition. I'm amused by Chopped contestants that (for show purposes I'm sure) appear to discount the other competitors because they believe their dishes are superior or because they believe the others are inferior chefs. Think about your competition in terms of what you can learn from them. You may be able to borrow ideas that can be tweaked just enough to help your communication needs. Granted, this may not always work, but it's just silly to discount the work of others as not being useful to you.
  4. There's a difference between confidence and arrogance. I can't stand the contestants that walk in with an arrogant flair. I root against them. It's subtle, but you can have confidence with your work, campaign, release, counsel, etc. and not cross the line into the area of arrogance. I think this is more of an internal relations and office well-being lesson, but still noteworthy. Of course, how you carry yourself among your PR peers is also at play here.
  5. Know the rules and judges. This one cracks me up. Sometimes I'm not sure the Chopped contestants every watch the show they are on. If they did, they'd now which judge doesn't like raw onions (it's Scott Conant) or the fact that you can't really talk your way out of missing an ingredient from the basket in your dish. PR people need to understand the rules of road for communication success. What are the issues that matter to the people in charge of your organization? Do you know the people in your community that have the influence? What are the parameters and expectations for your work?
  6. It's the simple things that make the difference. Contestants are judged on their dishes presentation, taste, and creativity. Often times it's the subtle nuances in how you attack a PR problem that make the outcomes more favorable. Don't overlook the little things that make a huge difference.
  7. Smile and appreciate the win. In the end when a contestant is the last one standing and their dish hasn't been among those that were ousted, they'll smile and thank the judges and talk about how they'll spend the $10k. It's ok for PR people to take those moments to stop and appreciate the wins (keeping in mind lesson number four above).
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