Good luck, and don’t f*ck it up! PR lessons from RuPaul’s Drag Race

PR professionals start your engines and let the best networker win!

As RuPauls Drag Race is coming to the UK via BBC Three this year I thought it was time to highlight the top 10 PR lessons from this top US show.

Before we start, if you’ve never seen RuPaul’s Drag Race, here’s a brief low down. RuPaul’s now iconic reality television show is a competition between a selection of America’s drag acts for the coveted spot of drag’s next superstar.

Ten competitors take on a series of costume making, dancing, presenting, acting and singing challenges in front of a panel of celebrity judges. Regular US judge, the beloved sassy and shady Michelle Visage, will be crossing the pond to join an array of UK guest judges like Graham Norton and Alan Carr.

Any of the drag acts who reach the bottom two are pitted against each other and have to lip sync (a staple of most drag acts) to a song to stay in the competition, the loser is asked to ‘Sashay away’ which means leave the show.

The overall winner is crowned in a live show down where finalists have to lip sync against each other to win. The prize is usually a year’s supply of makeup, wigs or costumes and winners are instantly thrust into the limelight with a series of shows and appearances.

Simple, brutal, ruthless, fabulous and wildly popular RuPaul brings drag onto our screens to brighten our lives. The phrases from RuPaul and the contestants have become common vernacular across America, the UK and most likely some of the other 191 countries it’s broadcast to!

In celebration of Mama Ru’s UK series I’ve pulled out some of RuPaul famous catchphrases and given them a PR slant to give those starting out in the industry some valuable drag wisdom.

And, before we start no this isn’t a solid critical and academic assessment of RuPaul and PR but, if you haven’t figured that out by now this post might not be for you.

FYI I’m going to be just as cutting as Mamma Ru and I can’t wait to throw some serious shade – the library is open!

“You better weeerrrkkk”

Let’s start with the obvious. If you already work in PR I’m not shattering any illusions when I say PR is hard work. If you’re new to the industry you better be prepared to roll up your sleeves – you better weerrrk!

Expect the unexpected too, one minute you might be in the boardroom, the next dealing with a diva (client, supplier or just your colleagues 😉). And then you’re sat on the floor trying to stuff creative mailers or goodie bags while on your phone dealing with emails when it all goes to the wind and stops because a crisis lands in your inbox.

What I’m trying to convey is that while there is routine, in some respect, you’re going to be doing a bit of everything and balancing your priorities isn’t always easy.

PR is full of incredible perks but, it is demanding, and if you think you’re heading into a standard Dolly Parton (9am-5pm for those not familiar with Dolly time), then think again.

It’s easy to think that PR is super glamourous but, much like drag, a lot of work goes into the final product to make things go without a hitch!

“The Library Is Open”

Trust your gut, being able to read a situation or a person will help you in every aspect of PR. It will help you to be the most diplomatic version of yourself, manage expectations and navigate you through tricky circumstances.

You are going to come across some interesting characters in PR, trust me I’ve met my fair share, and you’ll need to know when to hold your tongue and when to speak up.

“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag”

Making an impression and creating a good reputation is a big part of PR. Everything from how you present yourself to the choices you make for your client or brand. You’ll often be steering and guiding a brand to make the best decisions possible to maximise its goal.

Drag is all about adapting to fit into the world or using it to stand out and PR is no different. In this industry you need to be able to wear ‘different hats’ aka be the trusted advisor one moment, the devils advocate the next or be the person that carefully side steps the client away from an issue.

You’ve got to be able to pick the right solution or approach to a situation and speak or write in many different tones and styles. From press releases on detailed technical subjects to one on a fun frivolous event, no two clients are the same and you need to be dynamic with a flexible approach. You need to be able to adapt.

“The Time Has Come for You to Lip-Sync for Your Life”

When it comes to pitching, you’ve got to give it everything as you are lip-syncing for your life. If you want to win that work you’ve got to make sure you give it your all.

Don’t forget to pull out all the stops before the pitch too otherwise you might not get to present all your wonderful ideas (I’ve learnt from experience – you’d be surprised by the amount of companies that don’t make the effort to respond promptly, correctly or bother to follow anything up!).

From the minute a company lets you know they’d like you to pitch for creative services consider everything you do as assessed and contributing to the process. All the responses should be efficient, thought through and timely. Communication is key, it’s part of what you’re selling.

“I feel like you’re being sabotaged by your inner saboteur.”

This is the one that probably applies to me the most and it’s all about confidence. On Drag Race you often see even the best Queen come undone by their inner saboteur.

The inner saboteur is that little voice in your head that fuels self-doubt and insecurities. It’s the voice of fear that can guide you to make poor choices and it’s what holds you back from reaching your potential.

While your environment, influences and people surrounding you can feed this inner voice, you have got to be strong and take no notice of it. Put that inner saboteur in a box, chain it up and put it to the back of your mind. You’re better than that!

Side note…This is easier said than done though and I have dealt with an inner saboteur, especially at work, for a long time. If it’s something you struggle with I’m going to be sharing a few tips on how to deal with that personal devil in a post on rvhenderson.com soon – keep an eye out for it!

“It’s very easy to look at the world and think, this is all so cruel and so mean. It’s important to not become bitter from it.”

The press is negative, and love to twist everything and I found after working in PR for a few years I was starting to get pretty cynical and a little bit bitter.

I didn’t like feeling like this at all so I took a little step back and reviewed myself, my environment and the happy-go-lucky person I once started out as. I now make sure I balance my incoming news, so there’s a mix of sources featuring good and bad reports instead of a steady stream of negativity.

I also realised the importance of regular breaks. While I’m still working on this one personally,  I have seen such a benefit from taking proper breaks more regularly instead of working long periods of time with no respite.

In the working day this means getting away from your desk once an hour and over the year it’s about spreading your holiday evenly. I also found it useful to book things you enjoy in advance to have things to look forward to that are completely un-related to PR. A work life balance is really important.

“Shante you stay or sashay away”

Know when to you stay and know when your time is to Sashay away. This can apply to jobs and clients!

When working in PR it’s often easy to forget that the relationship between you and a client is a two way thing, if your client is acting out of line you don’t have to work with them.

Admittedly if you’re only starting out in the industry it’s highly unlikely you’ll have a choice as to whether keep a client or not. And, that’s when you need to look at the situation as see if it’s having an adverse effect on you and your work.

If you’re not happy in a job, it’s important to know when to start looking so you can move on swiftly and keep your motivation and enthusiasm from waning. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, you’ve got to look after yourself!

“This Is NOT Rupaul’s Best Friend Race”

PR can feel a little fake sometimes. Big personalities, clashing egos and a lot of pressure is rife! Find your tribe, there will be colleagues who support and build you up but be careful of the ones who are all talk.

I don’t like to kiss and tell but, I’ve learnt the hard way with my reports and ideas being taken by my colleagues and being passed off as their own. Keep your wits about you, it’s a competitive environment. That’s enough of cynical, bitter Bex! There is, of course, always good to balance the bad.

While there’s always people like that in the world, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d met some truly wonderful friends and colleagues through working in PR and the associated creative industries. The friendships forged tend to last, it’s not all doom and gloom, promise, find your tribe and you’ll be flourishing in no time!

“Extravaganza Eleganza”

Ideas are everything! Once you’ve got an idea confirmed sometimes you need a bit of pomp and ceremony to add some legitimacy to proceedings.

Don’t underestimate the power of local dignitaries, MPs and statistics or how adding some tradition, quirks or twists to proceedings can give your event or story some gravitas.

This is your chance to be a bit extra, remember, it could be the hook that catches that journalists eye!

“You MUST use your Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent”

It may sound daunting but it is highly rewarding. PR isn’t easy and it’s often portrayed as fluffy and the ‘nice to have’ element of a business or brand when actually it can be one of the most integral, especially in a crisis. There are always tricky situations to navigate, expectations and people to manage, and a high level of diplomacy must be employed at all times. You’re going to need your Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent to navigate PR.

While these 10 RuPaul-isms are fabulous, there’s one mantra of hers I think underpins them all and it’s the simple idea of loving yourself. I’ll leave you on that powerful message and wish you the best of luck in all your PR endeavours!

“If You Can’t Love Yourself How In The Hell Are You Gonna Love Somebody Else?”

“Good luck, and don’t f*ck it up!”

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