A hand from the House of Cards: highlights from the first two seasons all communicators can relate to

Feb 12, 2015
A hand from the House of Cards: highlights from the first two seasons all communicators can relate to

If you’re like me, you’ve been eagerly awaiting season three of "House of Cards." It’s one of the best shows because it’s witty, entertaining and Frank Underwood is a total badass.

But it’s also very relevant and has a number of memorable quotes and adages, relative to all of us who work in the communications field. I’ve rewatched the first two seasons (so you don’t have to) and borrowed from some of the best moments in HoC.

In order to get you ready for the third season (and for life) coming out on February 27 (despite yesterday's Netflix snafu), here are 13 cards to play from Frank Underwood’s House of Cards:

1. “You not only need the keys in your back pocket, you need the gatekeeper.” One of Frank Underwood’s first pieces of advice, this can be applied to any business, but particularly to media relations. Journalists are gatekeepers: they determine what is news and what isn’t. And in order to make news, you need the keys (the information or data) and the gatekeeper (a media partner).

2. “But know this-- Zoe Barnes, Twitter, blogs, enriched media, they're all surface. They're fads. They aren't the foundation this paper was built on, and they aren't what will keep it alive.” In the first season, when Tom Hammerschmidt is the editor at the Washington Herald and has a clear resistance to the transition to digital and to social media. With the state of journalism today, it’s hard to believe that only two years ago (when "House of Cards" first aired), an editor who has such visibility into the troubles of traditional print media, would have resistant to transitioning to, or at least embracing, digital.

3. “Will you let me work for you?” Remember the episode when Frank had to go back to his home state of South Carolina to defend a water tower in the shape of a peach? Most times in PR, you have to diffuse a situation before it turns into a crisis. We can learn empathy, action and conviction from the way Frank handled the situation and stopped it from becoming a full-blown crisis. Some credit is due to Doug, who advised Frank to go to South Carolina in-person.

4. “Remember, when you’re talking to one person you’re talking to 1,000.” After Tom insulted Zoe in his office, she pulled out her tape recorder and said exactly this. Nothing is a secret these days with the possibility of  hidden recorders, tapes, cell phones or tablets. The stakes are high for a public figure, so the pressure is constantly on to remain aware and smart in what he or she says and does. But this can also relate to the everyday social media user: a Facebook or Instagram comment, a tweet, a Snapchat—none of these are seen by only one person.

5. “It’s disorganized labor.” When a brick flew through the Underwoods’ window during the negotiations for the education bill, the first person to frame that situation got the first mover’s advantage. Thus, “disorganized labor” became the term (thanks to Clare) mentioned most in the media about the negotiations. This was brilliant and is a great example of the benefits of being the first to frame a situation.

6. “There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth.” When it comes to a company’s or person’s reputation, rumors that go on for too long can cause damage. Rumors can undermine, cause stakeholders to doubt and second guest their trust, and can cause a disruption in day-to-day business. Frank is completely right: there’s no better way to get rid of doubt than with the truth.

7. “To move people, meet them where they are.” Okay, so this quote isn’t Frank Underwood’s, it’s Fred Garcia’s. But I couldn’t help but think of this concept when Peter Russo was running for Governor. He had trouble reaching his audience in Philly: his constituents refused to listen to his reasoning for running. They were disappointed and angry with him for letting the shipyard close, leaving hundreds unemployed. So he went to the local pub, got on their level, and reached them. He moved them, because he met them where they were: emotionally and physically.

8. “All my months of planning. Everything hinges on the next few minutes.” The amount of planning that goes into our work is one of the things most don’t realize about the PR profession. Our, and Frank’s, strategic moves lead up to one pivotal moment.

9. “My father believed that success is a mixture of preparation and luck.” There is some truth to Frank’s father’s thinking and a lot of the time, this is how we make things happen for companies and clients. That’s why PR is such a fast-paced industry—we have to be opportunistic and dive right in.

10. “Presidents who obsess over history obsess about their place in it, instead of forging it.” “Who said that?” “I just did.” One of the best, most sought-after attributes in a spokesperson is someone who is quotable. Not only for company collateral, but reporters appreciate it too. And apparently, so did President Walker in season two.

11. Go home at some point--the Capitol will still be here in the morning.” Work will always be there in the morning, especially for PR pros, when the work doesn’t end. I referenced this in a previous post, but work/life balance is extremely important: to us, and for Jackie Sharp.

12. “Public opinion doesn’t have a law degree.” This is one of the quotes that has stayed with me ever since the first time I saw the show. It touches on what so many people and companies get wrong: explaining the law, the science, the concept, without appealing to the human element.

And last, but not least…

“Tap, tap.” If all else fails, before leaving a meeting, tap your ring on the table twice and leave people guessing.

Okay, maybe that last one not the best piece of advice, but haven’t you been anticipating the third season premiere ever since Frank did that in the closing scene of the second season? It’s happening on February 27. Will you be watching?

Julia Sahin works in Corporate Communications at one of the largest PR firms in New York and is a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. She is a recent graduate from the Master’s program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at NYU and was the first to conduct and publish academic research on the reputational effects of regulation on big banks. She plans on doing big things. All opinions should be seen as her own and do not reflect her employer’s.

About the author

Calculated risk-taker, positive thinker, dream-chaser | M.S. @nyuniversity, B.A. @tcnj | Passionate about PR for financial companies | Opinions are mine

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