9 PR and marketing lessons from ‘The Greatest Showman’

By Michelle Garrett | Posted: January 11, 2018

The new film “The Greatest Showman” is based on the story of P.T. Barnum, who some believe possessed one of the brightest public relations minds in history.

Barnum, best known for his role as a founding member of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, understood promotion in a way few did in the 1800s, and was ahead of his time in the way he went about getting people excited about what he had to offer. The film’s director, Michael Gracey, likens Barnum to modern business visionaries like Steve Jobs.

So, what lessons can PR and marketing pros take away from master promoter Barnum and “The Greatest Showman”? Here are nine:

1. Understand the power of PR. Barnum understood that getting the press on his side was a powerful way to get his story out. By leveraging those relationships, he succeeded in getting the public to pay attention to his museum and his shows.

2. Combine earned and paid media. Barnum leveraged a less-than-stellar review of his show that appeared in one newspaper, using it in ads in publications across the region, offering a discount to anyone who brought the ad to the ticket counter.

The result was sell-out performances, which only drove the demand for tickets higher. As Barnum says in the film, “Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.”

3. Controversy isn’t always a bad thing. As the film depicts, Barnum’s tactics were questioned by some. His show created controversy, which he used to drive even more publicity. The idea that people knew they’d be seeing something they’d never seen before helped Barnum to succeed.

He dared to be different and didn’t shy away from chaos. Barnum believed, “There's no such thing as bad publicity,” another of his famous quotes.

[RELATED: Join us in Miami for the Do-It-All Communicator Conference.]

4. Always have the headline in mind. Barnum was known for being able to envision what the headline would say when he was putting together a strategy to introduce a new act or He understood how to write catchy copy that would bring in the crowds.

5. Believe in your product. Even though what Barnum was doing had never been done before, he had faith it would be a success. He believed people were looking for something new and different, even if they didn’t know it yet.

When times got tough—and ticket sales were failing—he kept on believing and tweaking his approach. He was eventually proven right when crowds started to show up.

6. Master the sales pitch. Barnum knew how to sell his ideas. Even if you have the most brilliant idea for a campaign, if you don’t know how to present it to the decision makers, it may never see the light of day. If you can use creativity to get your idea across to your client or boss, you may be more likely to get the green light.

7. Get the right person for the job. When recruiting acts for his show, Barnum understood how to appeal to the right recruits, find the right person for the perfect role and then get them excited about performing in that role.

8. Take inspiration from everyday experiences. Barnum was able to draw inspiration from humdrum occurrences to create his unique offering. For example, the film shows how he came up with the idea for one of his acts from a book that he saw lying on his daughter’s bedside table. PR pros can also always be searching for their next idea.

Remember your roots. When Barnum found success with one venture, he tried branching out into other ventures, but he learned to never forget his roots. Try new things but don’t neglect to nurture what made you a success in the first place.

Check out The Greatest Showman not only for its entertainment value but to take advantage of Barnum’s timeless lessons on how to promote whatever it is you’re selling.

Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer at Garrett Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter @PRisUs or connect with her on LinkedIn.

(Image via)