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More PR Lessons from Saved by the Bell

Kari Brownsberger

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I recently came across this article on PR Daily* about PR lessons we can learn from the classic 90’s show Saved by the Bell.  Cheesy as it was, Saved by the Bell remains one of my all-time favorite shows, (and I might still believe I’m going to marry Zack Morris), so reading the article got me thinking of the many other PR lessons that the students from Bayside High can teach us.

1.  The wrong angle can kill a great story.

Most Saved by the Bell fans, myself included, try to pretend that the very early Miss Bliss episodes never happened.  Sure, the makings of the golden Saved by the Bell episodes are there, but something isn’t quite right.  NBC realized this as well, and after filming one season of the Miss Bliss episodes (which was originally titled Good Morning, Miss Bliss), decided to revamp the series.  They turned the focus to the students rather than the teachers, made some smart casting changes, and moved the setting from Indianapolis to southern California.  TV brilliance was made.

The same lesson holds true in the PR world.  Even if you have the makings of a great story, you can kill it by pitching it with the wrong angle.  It’s always better to wait until all the pieces of the puzzle are in place before pitching out something that’s half-baked.  Sure, we forgive NBC for the Miss Bliss episodes, and we accept that half of the gang magically transported themselves from the Midwest to California (in an identical school no less!).  But, reporters aren’t that forgiving, and will ask a lot more questions if you try to re-pitch the same story with a new angle down the road.

2.  Persistence does sometimes pay off.

The PR Daily article mentions that persistence doesn’t always pay off, using Screech’s unwavering pursuit of Lisa as a prime example.  While I can agree that persistence doesn’t always pay off, I’d argue that persistence DOES pay off when you have the right story.  Case in point: Zack’s unwavering pursuit of Kelly.  Zack knew that he was right for Kelly (who wouldn’t fall for his good looks, charm, and giant cell phone?), and he never gave up fighting for her.  He was willing to compete with countless other guys to win Kelly’s affection - Slater, college man/Max manager Jeff, and even Jeremiah, his own college professor.  In the end, Zack got the girl and a classy Vegas wedding with her.

So what does this mean for PR pros?  Well, if you know you have a good story, be persistent.  Don’t border on stalking (I wouldn’t advise having a life size cardboard cutout of a reporter under your bed), but not all placements come easily.  I’ve had many contacts thank me for following up with them, so don’t be afraid to follow up if the story truly is right for the target.

3. You can’t fake a good story.

Remember the episode where Zack is assigned a family heritage project for class?  Well, Zack fakes the assignment, presenting a completely false family history to the class.  Of course, his teacher was on to him immediately, and told him he needed to redo the presentation or risk failing and being kicked off the track team.   Zack dives into research with a man named Chief Henry, who soon teaches Zack about his own Native American heritage.  Zack (or Running Zack, as he’s now known) gives an enlightening and passionate presentation about his roots and aces the presentation.  All is well again at Bayside.

This third lesson again holds true just as much in PR as it did for Zack – you can’t fake a good story.  Reporters will see right through your pitch, and you’ll risk ruining you and your brand’s relationship with key contacts.  So, do your research and be completely immersed not only in your brand’s products or offerings, but also their general industry as well.  Just like Zack, if you don’t do your homework, you’ll risk failing and missing out on some major opportunities.

Any other lessons that I missed?

*Note – this article does have a slight error.  Jesse took caffeine pills, not speed, to stay up all night and study.  She wasn’t that hardcore, and remember, there’s no hope with dope!