6 PR insights from ‘White Collar’

The show’s con man, Neal Caffrey, can teach communicators several tricks to making the most of their efforts.


I recently discovered “White Collar” on Netflix and was immediately sucked into the world of criminal consultant Neal Caffrey and FBI agent Peter Burke.

After binge-watching the series, I realized there were many lessons to be learned from the infamous con man that can be applied to PR.

Here are seven surprising tips you can learn from the show:

1. Know your target.

In the show, Caffrey is a successful consultant to the White Collar division of the FBI because he knows his targets, their weaknesses and how to use that information to his (and the FBI’s) benefit.

As a PR pro, it’s important that you know your audience and media connections—and what makes them tick. What do they love? What turns them off? How can you use that information for your organization’s benefit?

The more research you do, the better prepared you will be to connect with the people you are trying to reach.

Researching your target is important when it comes to pitching. Know the reporter and align your offering with their publication’s readers and coverage. Doing your homework can save time for you and the reporter.

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Research can also benefit your clients and customers when creating content for your organization’s social media profiles, email newsletter and blog. By knowing what your audience enjoys and how it relates to your offerings, you can incorporate the information into your content and see positive result in brand engagement—and business leads.

2. Make a name for yourself.

Caffrey was a well-known con artist with quite a reputation as an expert counterfeiter and art thief both with the FBI and on the streets. Caffrey’s reputation and knowledge enabled him make build relationships with clients and co-workers that helped him to solve cases and get into places that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

In PR, your organization’s reputation is everything. The name and image you create can set you apart from the competition. Here are some important things to remember when building your brand’s reputation:

  • Define who you are. What do you want people to associate with your brand? Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Speak up and share your knowledge. What are you an expert on? Share it with the world!
  • Get your words out there. Establish credibility by blogging and participating in interviews.
  • Get connected online. Connect with your audience and share your organization’s story by creating a website and social media account.
  • Never stop learning. You may be an expert, but that doesn’t mean you know everything. Take every opportunity to increase your knowledge.
  • Share the conversation. Don’t forget to encourage others to you’re your conversations. You can learn a lot from what others have to say—and it can build connections.

3. Use your support system.

Caffrey knew when to ask for help from those around him, and often sought the assistance of his long-time friend, Moz, to help him get out of (or into) sticky situations. He also learned that he could rely on Burke to have his back.

When it comes to PR work, know when to step back and ask for help. Don’t be afraid to speak up—whether it is asking your team to proofread a pitch or seeking for ideas for your next blog post. Knowing when you need assistance is important for success.

Asking your audience for feedback is also important for your organization’s PR strategy. Your customers are crucial to success. Asking for their input builds trust and increases engagement, and an engaged audience strengthens your brand’s reputation—which results in more success.

4. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Caffrey was always learning and trying new approaches to the hurdles he faced. He studied, learned and attempted new approaches that would help him become successful in whatever he was working on.

Whether it’s a new strategy, technique or technology, don’t run from new experiences. If it doesn’t end up working for your organization, attempting a new approach is a great way to grow. If the new experience goes well, you have a new tool in your pocket to increase your organization’s success.

Don’t let the fear of trying something new scare you from reaching your goals.

5. Embrace changes.

One of “White Collar’s” main storylines was about Caffrey changing and growing. He might have been a con artist at heart, he went from a man running from the FBI to building a relationship with the agent who caught him—multiple times.

PR, technology and people are constantly changing and evolving. What works today will not necessarily work tomorrow. If you stay stuck in your ways, you will miss out on a great deal of opportunities and potential growth, both personally and professionally.

6. Pay attention to details.

Caffrey and Burke solved their cases because they went over every detail. From finding hidden signatures in counterfeit art pieces to expertly matching a rare wine, the attention to detail made all the difference in finding and catching criminals.

For PR pros, the amount of time you spend on small details can help with the bigger picture and goals. Whether you’re reaching out to reporters or spending time with social media followers, the details matter. It lets them know you did your homework and are invested in them (and what they care about).

Paying attention is more than knowing your journalist’s demographics and audience. It’s making a note of events coming up in his or her schedule, such as vacations or holidays, or making a thoughtful comment about a piece they recently wrote.

These personal details can often be overlooked, but when reaching out, they give you a common ground—and a greater chance of your message being opened. It’s not practical to get every detail, but even making note of their time zone can make a difference. Though seemingly insignificant, it can show you the best time to pitch.

Danielle Winski is a publicist at Three Girls Media. A version of this article originally appeared on the agency’s blog.

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