Fictional U.S. Rep. Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) smooth-talks his way through Congress in the Emmy-nominated Netflix original program, “House of Cards.” Along the way, he and his Capitol Hill cohorts offer lessons about public relations, both good and bad.
Following are lessons from D.C.’s manipulator in chief.
Always prepare for an interview.
Rather than prepare for a CNN debate about a contentious teachers strike, Underwood underestimates the opposition and decides to wing it. When things go poorly on live TV, he throws an instinctive Hail Mary pass that misfires badly, setting back his cause and making him a viral video sensation for all the wrong reasons.
Respond quickly to a crisis situation.
When fingers start being pointed following an accident in his home district, Underwood heads home immediately, despite being up to his elbows in alligators in Washington. Back at home, Underwood shows such remarkable responsiveness and caring that he brings the crisis quickly under control, clearing the way for his return to D.C.
Tell your bad news before someone else does.
Peter Russo, a flawed congressman with a checkered past, is Underwood’s pick to run for governor of Pennsylvania. Rather than wait for news of Russo’s past drug use to trickle out, Underwood advises Russo to tackle it head on, framing it as a comeback story.
Put a face to your story.
With the teachers strike at an impasse, Underwood rallies support by telling the story of a child’s untimely death. This story is broken instantly on Twitter, showing that even an old-school Washington powerbroker appreciates the might of new media.
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Underwood goes off the record to predict the outcome of a precariously close vote. When he gets it wrong, it hurts both his credibility with a reporter and the reporter’s credibility with her audience.
Put yourself in a good mental place before an interview.
Russo parties all night before an important radio interview. The results are predictably bad, torpedoing his gubernatorial campaign.
Keep your media relationships professional.
Underwood selects reporter Zoe Barnes as his primary media confidant. For a while, things go swimmingly, but when the relationship gets too personal, both suffer.
A version of this story first appeared on the author's blog, The Last Blog in America.