7 Things PR Pros Can Learn From Joan Rivers

joan rivers quote

Late last week, a comedic legend left us a little bit happier than when she arrived: Joan Rivers passed at the age of 81.

If you’d been watching Twitter when news of her cardiac arrest during throat surgery broke, you’d be appalled to know how many people didn’t realize that she was famous well before E! Network’s famously bitchy Fashion Police. Yet her raspy voice, blunt humor, and keen insights (all wrapped in her trademarked “Can We Talk,” pronounced “tawwwwk”).

She was many things to many people, but this groundbreaking comedienne was also a bit of an inspiration to us PR strategist types. She was always my mother’s favorite funny person, so I’ve received more than an earful of the potty-mouthed legend in my day.

That’s what got me thinking: if we look hard enough, we can find seven things that we (flacks) can all learn from Joan Rivers.

Dive in after the jump.

1. Don’t be afraid to say what others think.

Joan Rivers is most noted for that quote. Her acerbic wit was blunt, honest, and spot-on. Why? Because most everyone agreed with her…in private. As she first told Johnny Carson, she “succeeded by saying what everyone else was thinking.”

Most great ideas that emerge from PR boardrooms come from those willing to propose what others may be too timid to suggest. If your client can steal a bit of a spotlight by providing a service, then offer the idea. At least, like Joan, you’ll look good for thinking out loud.

joan-rivers-fingers2. Don’t tolerate the haters. 

Joan Rivers was a comic who specialized in delivering insults. Yet, while men were getting paid quite well to do it, people scoffed at the sight of a woman doing the same thing. How did she tune them out? She ignored them and made them eat a healthy side of crow. Daily. When people made fun of her, she chimed in, kept her nose down, and did her job.

She said, “At my age, an affair of the heart is a bypass!” She was always told that something was wrong with her, yet she kept on keeping on. There are haters in every agency, and giving them energy is taking energy away from yourself. Screw ’em. And serve them crow.

3. Find the humor in everything.

PR is tough. Don’t let the smooth taste of travel, TV cameras, and talking to media types fool you. This is a challenging world in which we live — and its guiding principle is “what have you done for me lately?”

When you are being insulted weekly by team members, clients, or said media types, it always helps to find the humor in things. Learn to stop taking it all so seriously. Joan Rivers said, “Life is tough, so you better learn to laugh at everything.” Amen to that, sister. This job is serious enough without the constant influence of the Debbie Downers of the agency/media worlds.

Take it from two experts:

Joan Rivers

4. Know that what you have matters.

“With age, comes wisdom. You don’t need big boobs to be feminine. Look at Liberace.” Funny and true. Joan Rivers knew what she had at her disposal — and what she didn’t. Few PR people have confidence in themselves as is. They are always trying to get the next big hit because they fear that the work they’ve already done isn’t good enough.

You don’t need to be all things to all people. Some do a few things very well while others constantly try to master every task under the sun and end up being the sad old jack of all trades/master of none. Know what you have, own it, and don’t feel like you need to apologize.

That’s one thing Joan never did.


5. Don’t call it a comeback.

Sure, LL Cool J made that sentiment famous — but Joan Rivers lived it. The woman has been fired, ignored, cast away, bankrupt, widowed by suicide, and constantly ridiculed. Yet, look at her — at 81, she had three TV shows, four businesses, and god knows how many facelifts.

She was the number one trend on Twitter worldwide the day she died and again when she was laid to rest. In PR, you will experience plenty of setbacks throughout your career. It goes with the business: people will stab you in the back, throw you under the bus, make work very uncomfortable, and steal credit for your ideas. But if you were good enough to be targeted once, you will summon the gusto to do it again. And again. Just keep working hard. There’s always more to do in this field.

joan-rivers-tmi6. Understand when re-discovery is necessary.

Joan Rivers never met a plastic surgeon she didn’t like. In fact, she said “I have been tucked more times than a Holiday Inn bed sheet.” Despite what that may say about her self-esteem, she always knew when it was time to reinvent herself.

And she did it successfully.

You may have a client that seldom makes real news, giving you little in the way of concrete results. Yet, when the time comes to seriously evaluate strategy, consider the fact that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. An awareness of your own limitations is not necessarily a bad thing. Just think of Joan.

7. Selfishness is for amateurs.

PR is a funny industry. Even though people can get a contact from Vocus, Cision, or Meltwater, every agency includes some douche who will not introduce you to “my contact.”

The reality: those people fear that you might do a better job than they did; hence the fire hydrant mentality.

How can you stand out? Teach others what you know. Show them how you do it. Do for others what your mentors did for you (with humility). Joan Rivers was always performing, but she was also always sharing her knowledge of the craft with others. Take a quick glance at social media and note all the young(er) female comics thanking Joan Rivers for the lessons and the time she took to help them out.

You want to matter in PR? Matter to others.