PR lessons the nine Oscar Nominees for Best Picture can teach us


On February 26, you’ll see an Academy Award for Best Picture given to one of nine thought-provoking movies. What does this have to do with public relations? A lot. You see, we learn life lessons from movies—especially those of the public relations kind.

While this year’s nominated films come from a broad range of genres, including science fiction, drama, Western and even a romantic musical, they all have a PR-related message in common.

Here are the nine PR lessons you can see in each of the best picture nominees:

  • La La Land – Don’t quit
  • Arrival – Analyzing our past actions matter
  • Fences – Sometimes tough love is necessary
  • Hidden Figures – Celebrate your achievements
  • Hacksaw Ridge – Great communicators take quick action
  • Hell or High Water – Remain calm under pressure
  • Lion – Educate yourself on statistics
  • Manchester by the Sea – Admit when you're wrong
  • Moonlight –You must have confidence

Not sure how these really all tie into PR? Keep reading for more on the nine PR lessons this year’s Best Picture nominees can teach us. Provided without spoilers, of course.

La La Land

While it pains me to not make a joke about how the movie La La Land teaches us all that the PR lifestyle is one based on song and dance, it’s not the main lesson with this nominated film. Rather, the PR lesson found in La La Land is to keep believing in yourself and don’t quit. No matter what.

Even after the one hundredth no you’ve received while pitching your story. Even when you’re at the end of your self-confidence rope. Even when everyone around you is a naysayer. Especially when that mean editor bashes you online for your generic PR pitch.

Don’t quit.

If you really want to get your story, or your brand’s story, out there you must find a way to push yourself through the self-doubt, criticism, and negative voices in your head telling you to give up.

Not every brand is going to make it on the cover of that coveted magazine or on The Today Show. But did you ever watch a movie and say to yourself, “Wow, this actor isn’t even that good, but look at him doing his acting thing and making millions?” Of course, you have!

It turns out, it’s not always the best and brightest who rise to the top. Sometimes it’s just the tenacious, that someone with the extra ounce of fight, who happens to catch an editor or new desk assistant at just the right moment.

Guess what? That someone could be you.

We often must see and experience the bad to reach the good. Media success doesn’t always happen overnight. Keep at it.


Believe it or not, movies about aliens can teach us a thing or two about PR. Take for example Arrival the story of 12 alien pods which come to Earth and our attempts to build a relationship and discover their reasons why.

With the line, “If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?” Arrival teaches us the PR lesson that analyzing our past actions matter.

The final step in any solid media plan is measurement. This may include media impressions, social media growth, referral traffic to your website, or even a pre-survey and post-survey to determine whether the levels of awareness or brand affinity have changed because of your media efforts.

Before you get underway with your media plan, remember to benchmark your current numbers before you begin executing your plan so you can effectively track results.

How can you tell if your media outreach and PR efforts are working? The following are five methods you can use to gauge your media plan’s effectiveness.

  • Track how many clips your media plan efforts have generated, and where they are appearing.
  • Measuring your placements against how often or where your competitors get placed can help distinguish your media efforts and their worth.
  • Compare your mention against the cost of an ad for comparable space (or time) to see if the placement is worth the effort.
  • Track your sales leads by asking customers where they heard about you and including specific promo codes and URLs in your media outreach efforts.
  • Accurately measure your web traffic and activity online with tools like Google Analytics.


The movie Fences tells the tale of a hard-knuckled, embittered Troy Maxson. Once a dynamite baseball player in his day, Troy is now no picnic as a father for his sons to deal with.

The key PR lesson that can be learned from this Denzel Washington-directed flick is that sometimes tough love is necessary.

Cards on the table, the relationship between those that do PR and journalists can be a fraught with trials and tribulations. Sometimes both parties’ interests align, other times they do not.

While we all know that there are only so many minutes in the day for the media to cover news, including your brand’s story, we also know that the media needs to be fed PR-related content to do their jobs.

It’s a win-win for everyone, whether some like to admit it or not.

Before you get discouraged by an editor’s or reporter’s tough love response to your pitch, here are the top tough love situations you might encounter from the media.

  • Pretending to know your brand better than you do and coercing you into doing an interview or story angle you may not be comfortable with.
  • Trolling PR efforts on Twitter calling out errors, mistakes, or even PR’s general existence.
  • Not having the manners to thank your brand for hospitality, press trips or event invites.
  • Greeting your well-crafted pitch with the terse “your brand isn’t well known enough.”
  • Ghosting you after showing interest in your pitch and brand after a one-day deadline.
  • Submitting an opinion piece and having the editor change the byline to their own name.
  • Griping about being followed up and responding with a “Don’t call me,” “Don’t send follow-up emails,” or “If I’m interested, I’ll get back to you.”

Like some dogs, most media contacts have barks worse than their bite. Trust me. I’ve been screamed at a lot.

Show your worth and that you can be truly helpful to making their lives easier. At the end of the day, members of the media are our friends and they need brands and PR outreach just as much as we need them to tell our stories.

Hidden Figures

Have you seen Hidden Figures? It left me feeling as if I could achieve anything I set my mind to. As it should. Centering on three intelligent and talented African-American women at NASA, Hidden Figures taught us the importance of morality, perseverance, and how to properly treat others.

What’s the biggest PR lesson that can be taken away from Hidden Figures? That life is too short to not take every opportunity to celebrate your achievements. You must PR the PR.

Once you receive a mention in a magazine article or are featured in a television segment, by PR-ing the PR, you can further extend that 15 minutes of media fame.

Not sure how to make that media placement work its very hardest for you? Here are a few examples:

  • Promote the article or feature across your social media accounts.
  • Write a blog post about the experience of being featured.
  • Make sure you send it to the editor you worked with and include a thank you.
  • Update your website, marketing, and the like with “as seen in” for each product featured.
  • Send out an email blast to customers, wholesalers, and other contacts with the news.
  • Make it easy for your networks to share the news by including a sample tweet, post, or email.

Worried it’ll come off as a brag? Don’t be. You should never be afraid to showcase your brand’s accomplishments or feel proud of the PR work you are doing while chasing your dreams.

Share your media results with your peers, customers, and the world because many of the stories we know of today were proudly told by people like you.

Don’t you dare be another hidden figure.

Hacksaw Ridge Hacksaw Ridge is the story of a WWII American Army Medic who refused to wield a weapon or harm another person yet somehow managed to pull 75 men to safety in the Battle of Okinawa.

Just as the main character’s heroic efforts earned him the Medal of Honor, this Oscar Nominee deserves a medal for teaching us the PR lesson that great communicators take quick action.

In the movie, the main character was working in a church when he heard a commotion outside. He looked out a stain-glassed window to see a young man with a car on top of him. Without hesitation, the movie hero leapt off the ladder, rushed outside, and began tending to the injured man’s wounds.

Great communicators do the same thing. When they see a problem, they begin working to resolve the problem. Immediately.

When a potential PR disaster occurs, it’s critical to immediately stand up and say, “Let’s get to the bottom of this.” When a brand delays in responding or tries to stonewall the press when there is an obvious problem, the story will only grow instead of going away.

How? The quickest way to act is to craft a three-part message.

First, express sincere concern for those affected. After that, demonstrate that you are acting to determine what happened and how it happened, and what you are going to do to get to the bottom of it. Finally, explain what measures you’re taking to make sure the problem doesn’t occur again.

At the beginning of every crisis, the media will ask what happened, how did it happen, and to whom? By having a three-part message in place, you’ll have the answers they need. Right away.

Hell or High Water

In a nutshell, Hell or High Water tells the tale of two downtrodden brothers who turn to robbing banks to climb out of poverty and secure their family's future.

Hell or High Water also teaches us this valuable PR lesson: remain calm under pressure. Why? Because desperation and greed can force people to extreme actions.

Let’s be real, the role of communicating your brand’s story can be stressful. Your brand’s reputation and revenues are at stake. Deadlines are short, outcomes uncertain, and scrutiny high.

Being a media darling is fun, but also can have its moments.

How do you cope? Here are three ways to manage your stress and avoid a meltdown.

  • Don’t let events or other people mess with your emotions or mental state.
  • Look at the situation from different perspectives so you can get it in context.
  • Confine the current situation so it doesn’t impact other areas of your life.


Lion tells the story of Saroo, a young boy who begins his life in the squalor of remote India only to be separated from his family and left alone, penniless, and illiterate in a huge city before being adopted by a different family in Australia.

What PR lesson can this tale of human hardship and triumph teach you? That you should always educate yourself on statistics.

Lion’s main character was but one lucky needle in a haystack made up of as many as 20 million orphaned children in India. That’s approximately four percent of the country’s total population. On average annually, less than 5,000 of those 20 million ever get adopted.

Let that sink in.

And it does sink in, right? Because hard facts and numbers accompany the story you just read on orphans in India.

Use this trick when you go about telling your brand’s story.

Research information, facts, and figures that help tell the tale of what makes your brand unique, important, and a benefit to its target audience. Show how your company has made an impact to the local community—or world—through actual stats.

Therein lies your news. And the reason why the media won’t be able to resist covering you or your brand.

Manchester by the Sea

It doesn’t take long for the film Manchester by the Sea to show us that it’s a film built around the moments when people lose family members and how the lives of those left behind are changed.

All the unhappiness and excruciating agony held by the characters in this film stems from damage that cannot be corrected. In a society of pride where people do not share or manage their feelings with others, it’s a big step when characters in this film admit defeat, making the steps toward coping possible.

What is the PR lesson we can learn here? It’s a reminder that when you’re wrong, owning up to it is the best thing you can do.

Let me repeat: When you are wrong, the best course of action is to admit it, apologize sincerely, and then help everyone move on.

American people tend to err on the side of forgiving transgressors. In fact, apologies can be tactical weapons that increase the popularity of the accused. But, let's be careful in our generalizations. Apologizing requires strategic thinking.

The honesty-is-the-best-policy approach confirms the advice that the best PR professionals have long given corporate America. For no other reason than, you simply cannot spin your way out of a bad situation.

The best spin in a bad situation or crisis is no spin.

Plain and simple, people do not like being lied to. Even the uninformed can sniff out a disingenuous person or apology. But people do care about other people. In fact, it’s people that society is eager to forgive.

If properly managed, an apology for past mistakes can in so many instances roll back tidal waves of unfavorable criticism. However, authenticity and consistency in your message are the initial keys to an effective public mea culpa.

No matter how high or mighty, being human personalizes the relationship with the jury of public opinion and improves your odds to come out on top.


Moonlight is a heart-breaking film that follows three phases of a gay man’s life. Throughout the film, we see the main character struggle through childhood difference, teenage bullying, and adult emotional paralysis.

One of the themes central to the film is that what we project externally to the world is very different to what we feel inside ourselves. Life is a game of fake-it-until-we-make-it.

Herein lies the PR lesson: Just as in life, you must have confidence in PR.

A trader on Wall Street I know once joked, “it’s more important to be convincing than right.” Sadly, this is true in many circumstances—in life and at work.

As an example, if you see a woman in a dress so low-cut that it requires tape in uncomfortable places, and so short that you’re nervous for her every time she leans forward, coupled with mile-high stiletto heels that have a 99 percent chance of causing an ankle break, you will think one of two things.

One, if she’s moving about the room as if she wears that every day, you will perhaps think, “Good on her for pulling that off.” However, if she is hunched over, visibly uncomfortable with the low neckline, and like Bambi on ice in her heels, you will instead think “that woman has no business wearing that outfit.”

What’s the key difference? It’s the woman’s confidence. Confidence breeds a plethora of qualities that are critical to PR, including good first impressions, thick skin, authenticity, courage, and honesty.

There you have it, the nine nominees for Academy Award for Best Picture. From science fiction to a Western, they all have PR lessons to teach us.

How do you plan to implement these PR lessons in your day-to-day? 

Want more helpful tips like the ones above plus more? Check out The Buzz: A Media Darling’s Guide to Press Coverage or sign up for exclusive Hearsay content.