PR lessons from NBC’s ‘The Office’

30 April 2007

Last week’s episode of NBC’s hit show ‘The Office’ called ‘Product Recall’ had a direct link to the world of public relations as Dunder-Mifflin, the fictional paper company where the show takes place, was in full crisis mode. The reason was a disgruntled employee at the paper mill put an obscene watermark on one of their most popular orders of paper. Michael, the boss, called the staff into a meeting and pointed the blame on a fellow employee, who was responsible for quality assurance at the paper mill and blew it off.

As the episode plays out, we learn valuable lessons in what NOT to do in a crisis situation. Michael decides to call a news conference in order to apologize to one of the clients affected by the lewd watermark. He decides to present the client with a novelty size gift certificate for free paper, however the client does not accept the gift or the apology and calls for Michael to resign as manager of Dunder-Mifflin. He then loses his patience and calls the client, “an ungrateful biatch” and then asks the one reporter who bothered to show up to the news conference if they were able to “get all that”.

The final public relations tactic Michael employs is direct to stakeholder communications as he records his own low-budget YouTube video in which he apologizes for the mistake and declares that not even a S.W.A.T. team would be able to get him to resign. This type of communication is becoming the latest way to cut the news media out of the mix. We saw this employed after Jet Blue passengers in the U.S. were left sitting on the tarmac for a whopping 12 hours before being able to get off the plane. The company came under fire and the company’s president David Neeleman made a video posted on YouTube and the Jet Blue website in which he got his message across without any media interference.



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