From Dispelling Rumors to Addressing Secret Pasts: PR Lessons You Can Learn from Downton Abbey

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Downton Abbey PR Lessons MACStrategiesDC Critical Blast

Kate Connors and Kipp Lanham are Senior Account Managers at Media & Communications Strategies, Inc. (   

Every Sunday night, viewers across the U.S. are getting schooled in early 20th century English lifestyle as they watch the ever-exciting Downtown Abbey. This PBS Masterpiece Theatre follows the lives of the Crawley family and their household staff. It has become a fan favorite across the globe. Although the lessons seem to be tailored towards polite society and upstairs/downstairs relationships, there are often lessons that PR professionals can learn from this vivacious cast of characters.

1)      "I hate to get news second-hand." - Violet Crawley.

Lady Crawley is spot on with this quote - you always need to be one step ahead of the news cycle. And a lot of that boils down to keeping on top of social media news and blog posts. These days, news and stories come through all channels of communication so it is important to have a strong monitoring system in place with your PR team that covers every channel of communication.

Another part of this is finding a way to present your client's story in a fresh way. As a communications professional, it is our job to help find the hook that can translate an idea into an exciting news opportunity that benefits the media and our clients.

2)      "Oh dear, have you swallowed a dictionary?" - Mrs. Patmore.

Mrs. Patmore, the beloved household cook, hit the nail on the head with this one. One thing mainstream media can't stand is when an expert goes overboard with jargon and terms they don't recognize. As PR representatives, it is our job to make sure our clients don't get bogged down in the jargon by helping them outline the key messages they want to convey in an interview.

3)      "We all have chapters we would rather keep unpublished." - Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.

As the Earl of Grantham astutely notes, clients, particularly crisis clients, can have skeletons in the closet that they would like to keep hidden and never tell PR pros that they're there. It is our job to get the client to make sure we know as much about their past to prevent any mishaps in messaging for any campaign activities that could hurt the client's reputation and hurt the bottom line.

4)      "I don't believe in types. I believe in people." - Tom Branson

When developing pitches for our clients, we must have caution with the stories the pitches will tell in the media. Tom is sensitive to how his story is depicted on the show. He doesn't want to lose his identity to high society in his role at Downton given his humble beginnings. It is up to PR pros to differentiate clients from their competition through dynamic, distinctive pitches that capture the pathos of your client's story. Questions to think about: will the media frame our client in a positive light or frame them as a one-dimensional, type cast figure in their industry? Depending on the goal of the media outreach and the message involved, we want to give a full picture of what our clients are advocating as the thought leaders/experts on the topic so they aren't diminished in piecemeal sound bites or a convoluted context.

Sir Julian Fellowes scripts a superb series of characters and conflicts that has produced such a dynamic set of lines to live by. It is worthy to take pause in the daily rigmarole of work and play as communicators to fully appreciate their clout for our clients. Are there lines that are lessons you have taken from the show that are of significance to your business? Let us know on Twitter @MACStrategiesDC.