What Jaws can teach us about PR

By Fionn Warren

This year Shark Awareness Day is on July 14. To celebrate, here at MediaHQ we’ve taken a look at Jaws to see what we can learn about PR. The summer blockbuster was a monster success, making over $400 million at the box office and spawning three terrible sequels. So successful was the film’s fearsome depiction of sharks that it lead to a reduction in beach attendance and a rise in shark-fishing.

However, it is not just the actions of a Great White that are important in Jaws but the film can teach us a lot about (un)succesful crisis management and leadership too.

Always tell the truth

When it comes to a PR crisis, it is always better to tell the truth. You should show concern to those affected and tell them what is going on. While that doesn’t mean you have to tell everything all at once, it does mean you should never lie. Thinking back over some of the biggest PR blunders in recent memory, they often start with a lie: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” “As you know, Sean, I’m not a big social animal” or Mayor Vaughn’s defence for keeping the beaches open–“I was acting in the town’s best interest.”
Mayor Vaughn lied about the shark existing, he then lied about the killing of the shark and he lied about why he lied. As a result, the shark continued doing what sharks in films do, and the public turned on the Mayor and Chief of Police. Had he told the truth from the start, all the mayhem and reputational damage could have been avoided. Take this as a warning that the truth will always come out, and occasionally eat a number of children playing at the beach.

Always be prepared

In the event of a crisis, you need to make sure that you are able to effectively address the problem. Don’t wait for the crisis to unfold but instead plan ahead and try to preempt all possible scenarios. It’s not much use to suggest that you need a bigger boat when you are already out at sea with the boat you picked. Had Brody and Quint brought an adequately sized boat on their shark hunt who knows what would have happened? Maybe it would have been more like a fishing trip among pals. Maybe nobody would have died.

Keep calm and carry on

In the midst of a crisis, you can sometimes feel lost and without hope. At times like this it is crucial that you persevere. Staying calm and dusting off the crisis is often your best course of action. In Jaws 2, Mayor Vaughn is still Mayor despite his actions leading to the deaths of a number of his constituents and their children. The fact that he has been able to hold on to his position as Mayor is a testament to his perseverance in the face of a crisis. In fact, the town in Jaws 2 is bustling and a new hotel has been built–a testament to the economic revival that has taken place under Mayor Vaughn’s charge. Mayor Vaughn refused to be defined by the crisis in the first film and successfully rebranded himself, until another shark came.

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Fionn Warren

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