What PR people can learn from Netflix’s “House of Cards”

My wife rolls her eyes every time it happens! We are watching a movie, and outside a courthouse or a murder scene, the press is all over the place – running around, asking questions, etc. I always yell, “The media doesn’t just get to do what they want in the real world.”

So, with another season of Netflix’s “House of Cards,” comes another eye roll from my wife, but also – as a former political communications adviser – an opportunity for me to give you some insight into how press really works at the White House.

Back story and SPOILER ALERT: In this episode, the Vice President and his wife are scheduled to do a live interview on CNN but an Anthrax scare keeps the VP locked in his office. This is right after the Speaker of the House was sworn in as VP and right after the State of the Union.

Let’s get the ridiculousness out of the way, and look at why this scenario is so unrealistic.

First, the interview would have never been live. It’s much easier for a communications director to manage an interview if it’s recorded. It will give you time to react if something wrong is said, fight to have certain parts left out and even promote it, if the interview goes well.

Second, the interview would have been cancelled. Any good communications person would have recognized that the Anthrax scare would have taken all the attention away from his/her boss and pushed the interview to another time. Also, it was supposed to be the Second Lady and her husband, and since the VP was locked in an office, the communications director should have cancelled the interview.

Third, the White House would have never approved the Vice President and his wife doing media right after the State of the Union. In the real world, the President’s staff is overly protective of their boss getting as much attention and credit as possible. Anything to distract the media from the message coming out of the State of the Union would have never been allowed by the President’s advisers.

While I could nitpick all day, I think it’s important to note that there are some positive points to take away from this episode.

I think CNN would have been the best venue for a new Vice President to talk. As a communications director, I would have wanted to do a one-on-one interview as soon as possible to position my boss in his new office. While I would have never done the first interview with the Vice President and his wife, I do think that it underscores how powerful a spouse can be in an office. It appears that the interview was during prime time, which is the appropriate time of day in terms of viewers and format. Finally, just like in this episode, a young producer – most likely trying to make a name for herself – would have pushed me to still put my boss and his wife on to talk about Anthrax, even though that was not the agreement.

Netflix’s “House of Cards” gives viewers a very entertaining look into a fictional Washington D.C. life, and while some aspects of it are spot-on, there are some communications and media elements that are not even close to accurate.

 

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