‘Star Trek: Picard’ Offers a Lesson in PR

Star Trek at Bospar

There is an old Star Trek proverb: beware of Romulans bearing gifts. This advice came from Dr. Leonard McCoy in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” After watching “Star Trek: Picard,” I think we should add a new prescription to the list: don’t let Romulans manage your PR.

In the first Picard episode, retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) prepares for his first-ever interview since the supernova destroyed the home world of the Star Trek villains, the Romulan Star Empire. (Picard has a soft spot for the Romulans and even has two on his staff.)

Picard asks his Romulan squad the terms of the interview. The team assures him the interviewer will not discuss Picard’s separation from Starfleet.

You can guess where this is headed.

The reporter begins by mentioning the anniversary of the Romulan Supernova, noting that Picard has not agreed to speak to the press before. But from there, the reporter seems to challenge every point Picard makes.

Before long, the reporter asks: “And then the unimaginable happened. Can you tell us about that?” Picard pauses. When pressed, he answers: “I thought we were here to talk about the supernova.”

She then asks, “You’ve never spoken about your departure from Starfleet. Didn’t you in fact resign your commission in protest? Tell us, admiral – why did you really quit Starfleet?” Picard mutters, but then shouts: “Because it was no longer Starfleet!”

There we have it. Everything they were not going to talk about is broadcast for the whole galaxy to watch. And Picard’s staff witnesses the meltdown from his kitchen.

“We’re done here,” Picard finally announces and walks off.

There is much PR professionals can learn about dealing with sensitive issues from this fictional interview. Here are the five that stand out.

1.) Pick the right reporter. Picard’s PR people should have known that this reporter would conduct the interview as judge, jury and executioner. Considering that Picard’s interview would be a high-profile get for any outlet, they should have insisted on a different reporter – and they had the leverage to do so.

2.) Focus on the pre-interview. It’s clear that Picard and the interviewer have never before interacted. Picard’s PR people should have arranged meetings for the two to develop a rapport.

3.) Never leave your client. The Romulans would have been in a stronger position had they been physically closer to Picard. While their ancestry would make their massaging of the interview suspect, it would have been far better to stop the proceedings than for them to allow the interview to continue. 

4.) Rehearse. These “gotcha” questions seemed to catch Picard off guard. But these were easy questions to predict. Things would probably have gone much better had staff prepared the right messaging to bridge to what Picard truly wanted to talk about.   

5.) Don’t take the bait. When the reporter pushed Picard into talking about the attack on Mars, he should have simply restated his terms and called the reporter out on shirking her side of the bargain. Instead, Picard let his emotions take over. This may have been avoided had he rehearsed.

A well-scripted TV interview would have made for a less dramatic introduction to the latest chapter of the Star Trek series. But PR professionals who want to ensure the best possible interviews for their clients can employ these tips to live long and prosper. 

Beyond ‘Star Trek’: The PR Power Of Star Power

Star at BosparRecently, I had a dream come true. Bospar had the privilege of working with a star I have idolized for years: George Takei. Yes, that George Takei! George rose to fame as Hikaru Sulu, the helmsman of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise in the original “Star Trek” television series.

Yes, that’s the same George Takei whose Facebook page has more than 10 million followers and who is a champion of LGBT rights, an internationally acclaimed and award-winning human rights activist, a tech guru, and prodigious producer of humorous political commentary.

As part of what was called “Team Takei,” we worked closely with George to provide public relations support for the launch of his paid augmented reality app, House of Cats. The augmented reality app allows users to add dialogue to the character “Trumpy Cat” — be it the president’s tweets or words of their own — and place him anywhere. Takei is quoted on the app’s website to say: “This is, without a doubt, one of the most absurd and tragic moments in U.S. history. We should feel upset about some of the things that are happening, but we created this app so we can laugh about some of the more ridiculous stuff.”

So, is dealing with a star very different?

Thanks to a PRWeek interview with George and me, I have been inundated with the same question from starstruck colleagues, friends, family and even a few causal strangers: “From a PR perspective, is it really different working with a star?”

The short answer is “not really.” The long answer is that it’s different because, with a celebrity client, especially one with a significant online following, comes broader and higher expectations. It is not different in that all of the planning and execution work that goes into maximizing a newsworthy event — and its follow-up — is virtually the same no matter who the client happens to be. 

While much can depend on where on the spectrum of divine/diva an individual client or organization falls, the checklist for visibility optimization and sustainability will not stray from PR best practices. As I have highlighted in several previous Forbes posts, PR’s critical role in successful brand stewardship and attention to the details of processes and relationships matter. And when working with a star, these factors are no less important.

The following are some tips for working with a celebrity.

  • Identify all key audiences and the type of “voice” that is appropriate for them.
  • Know who the influencers are in the target audiences and thoroughly understand the status of current relationships with them, what they are working on and what floats their boats.
  • Have talking points ready for your star, and remember that practice makes perfect when it comes to interacting with the media — be it trade or general business press.
  • Devise a “breaking news” strategy that fits the product, person and “surprise” factors that are predetermined as critical success generators.
  • Set expectations based on key performance indicators, with milestones for good, better and best.
  • When good news hits, be ready to make it go viral as soon as possible — breaking news does not live long in the digital age.
  • Constant situational awareness is a prerequisite for success.
  • Work around their schedule — they have a ton of stuff going on.
  • Don’t forget to memorialize your moment of immortality — you never know when it will happen again. (I made a video, and it’s one of the most precious things I’ve done in my life.)

Dealing with a star is different. They are both familiar and not. You come in with a lot of preconceived ideas about what they’re like. Fortunately, with George Takei, the preconception was that he would be utterly charming — and he was! But you’re likely to go in with a sense of reverence and even nostalgia for what they remind you of.

We are only a couple months into the launch of House of Cats, and it is a runaway hit. There are obvious reasons, including George’s star power and a reality TV president who is the gift that keeps on giving for those doing parodies and send-ups of all types — standup comedians, bloggers, internet-centric satirists, and cartoonists.

Anything that George Takei does — as with many other top celebrities — is, almost by definition, newsworthy. However, as we have pointed out before, no news outlet wants to be an also-ran, particularly on a surefire big story. This is why even celebrities appreciate the value of having a well-conceived and executed PR plan.

In fact, that is the major lesson from this experience. Just because the House of Cats proceeds are going to a refugee humanitarian organization did not, and does not, mean that getting the word out properly and obtaining a ton of downloads is not business. It is a big and serious business.

My final bit of advice for those of you who are lucky enough to find yourself in a similar situation is to ensure that you have a positive and professional experience. Make sure you’ve done your homework before the first meeting and know what they’ve said and done and what their concerns are. And above all, treat them with respect. They’ve done something most people haven’t to get to where they are.

For me, this experience has been doubly gratifying because I got to meet and work with one of my idols. Our passion for a mutual cause is being sustained, and we created differentiated value to keep hope alive and money flowing. Plus, we are having fun! The star I wished upon is making one of my dreams come true.

This article first appeared in Forbes.