Back in my college days, I used to play Texas Hold ’em.
There’s a lot to love about the game. My favorite part was how it would bring people from all walks of life together. In a dingy basement in Limerick,
Ireland, I’d walk in once a week to find men (it was mostly men) young and old, rich and poor, from all over the place sitting around the table.
It didn’t matter who you were once the cards were dealt.
Some people play the math and spend the evening calculating the odds; others prefer the psychology, intensely staring down and analyzing their opponents.
The way a person plays a hand of poker can tell you a lot about them.
Here are three things PR pros can learn from the game:
1. It’s crucial to build suspense.
The cards are dealt. The first round of betting takes place. Then the dealer turns three cards (the flop) and there’s another round of betting. The dealer
reveals a fourth card (the turn), and a third round of betting happens. The final card (the river) is revealed, and a final round of betting takes place.
Each turn, players have the option to bet, call, raise or fold.
With each round of betting, the suspense builds and the pot gets bigger. Finally, those who are still in the hand turn up their cards and the winner is
revealed. You find out who was bluffing all along and who was slow-playing (trapping people into betting by acting like your hand isn’t that good).
If you’re playing in the hand, your heart starts to race. Your eyes dilate. You start to sweat a little. It’s exhilarating. Even if you’re just watching
the hand play out, the excitement is intense.
The element of surprise is paramount to the enjoyment of the game. There’s a mounting body of evidence suggesting that
positive surprises lead to delight—and this means it can be a powerful PR & marketing tool.
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2. Take calculated risks.
Every poker game is a gamble—and so is every new PR campaign—but the level of risk is not always the same, because you can educate yourself.
In a poker game, the basic rules are easy, though learning to calculate odds is not. You have to take into account not only how strong your hand is, but
also how many chips you have, how much is in the pot, how many chips your opponents have and how many other players are still in—amongst other things.
It’s the same in a PR campaign. Success is never guaranteed, but by taking careful stock of your own resources, knowing what your competitors are doing and
understanding other external factors that might influence your chances of success, you can decide which risks are worth taking—and when it’s better to fold
and wait for a better hand.
3. Keep count of your chips.
Despite Kenny Roger’s emphatic advice not to “count your money when you’re sitting at the table,” it’s crucial for both poker and PR pros to know how much
money you have to play with—and how you can leverage it.
If you have a limited number of chips, you must be clever about how you use them. If have a huge number of chips, be careful—your ego can cause poor
decisions that see that pile evaporate in no time, with nothing to show for it.
PR budgets work just like this. Often, you must learn to do more with less. When you’ve got a big budget to work with, spend that money as if it’s coming
out of your own pocket—making sure you can measure and evaluate the results.
4. Sometimes you do everything right and still lose the hand.
In an unpredictable world, you can do everything right and still not get the results you hoped for.
In poker as in PR, there is always an element of luck. Whether you were dealt pocket aces only to lose to a flush, or you launched a major PR campaign the
same week as the blue-and-black/white-and-gold dress fiasco erupted, there are some things in life you can’t plan for.
If I get knocked out in the first few minutes of a poker tournament, I don’t beat myself up. Instead, I ask myself ,“Did I play the hand right?” If I made
the right choices and I got unlucky, I can live with that. However, if I made the wrong decision because I went on tilt (poker parlance for
letting your emotions cloud your judgment), I am annoyed with myself!
When you’re evaluating the results of the campaign, look at what you would do differently next time and learn from it—just like you can learn from getting
bested at the poker table.
Katie Harrington is a PR pro, blogger and author of “Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art." A version of this article originally appeared on her blog.