Recently, I discovered the show White Collar on Netflix and was immediately sucked into the world of Neal Caffrey and Peter Burke. After binge-watching the entire series, I was reflecting on the development of the characters and how the show evolved and realized there were many lessons to be learned from the infamous con man that can be applied to public relations. Follow along to learn seven surprising tips from the show.

Know Your Target

In the show, Neal is successful as a consultant to the White Collar division of the FBI because he knows his targets, their weaknesses and how to use that information to his and the FBI’s benefit. How does this relate to public relations? It is important that you know your audience, your media connections and what makes them tick. What do they love? What turns them off? How can you use that information for your brand’s benefit? The more research you do, the better prepared you will be to connect with the people you are trying to reach.

When it comes to pitching the media, researching your target is important. Know who you are trying to reach out to and make sure you align your offering with their media outet’s readers and coverage. By doing your homework, you will not only save your time, but the reporter’s time as well if you’re company is not a great fit with their publication.

This research can also benefit your clients and customers when creating content for your company’s social media, email newsletter and blog. By knowing what your target market enjoys, how it relates to what you have to offer and incorporating that information into your content, you’re more likely to see a positive result in brand engagement as well as business leads.

Make a Name for Yourself

In White Collar, Neal Caffrey was a well-known con artist with quite a reputation both with the FBI and on the streets; he was known as an expert counterfeiter and art thief. His reputation and knowledge allowed him make connections and build relationships with clients and those he works alongside. These relationships allowed him to solve cases and get into places that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

In public relations, your company’s reputation is everything. The name and image you create for company sets you apart from the competition. It is a bond between you and your customers – a promise of what your audience can expect when they do business with your company. Here are some important things to remember when building your brand’s reputation.

  • Define who you are. What do you want people to associate with your brand? Own up to your strengths and understand your weaknesses to build trust.
  • Speak up and share your knowledge. What are you an expert on? Share this expertise with the world!
  • Get your words out there. Establish your credibility by starting a blog and participating in interviews whenever possible.
  • Get connected online. Creating a website and social media account is a great way to connect with your audience to share your brand’s story.
  • Never stop learning. You may be an expert, but that doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know. Take every opportunity to learn more and increase your knowledge.
  • Share the conversation. While you may be focused on sharing your story and expertise, don’t forget to allow others to join in the conversations and state their opinions. You can learn a lot from what others have to say, and it builds a connection with others.

Use Your Support System

Public relations and Teamwork

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and feedback. The opinions of those you work with and your customers can offer some great insight which will help your public relations.

Neal Caffrey knew when to ask for help from those around him. He often sought the assistance of his long-time friend, Moz, to help him get out of (and sometimes into) sticky situations. He also learned that he could rely on Peter to have his back, along with the rest of the White Collar team he worked with.

When it comes to your public relations, know when to step back and ask for help. Whether it is asking your team to proofread a pitch you’re sending to the media or for ideas for your next blog post, don’t be afraid to speak up. Knowing when you need assistance is so important for success.

Asking your audience for feedback is also important for your company’s public relations strategy. Your customers are crucial to your business’ success. Asking for their input builds trust and increases engagement. An engaged audience strengthens your brand’s reputation, which results in more success.

Don’t be Afraid to Try Something New

Caffrey was always learning and trying new approaches to the hurdles he faced. This is one of the reasons he was so great, even when faced with a challenge that came with trying something he didn’t know; instead he studied, learned and attempted new approaches that would help him become successful in whatever he was working on.

Whether it’s a new strategy, technique or technology, don’t run from new experiences. Even if it doesn’t end up working for your business, attempting a new approach is a great way to grow. Plus, if the new experience goes well, you have a new tool in your pocket to use and increase your business’ success. Don’t let the fear of trying something new scare you from reaching your goals.

Embrace Changes

One of the main storylines of the show was about Neal changing and growing as a person. While he may have been a con artist at heart and [spoiler!] pulled off the ultimate con in the end, he did change. He went from a man running from the FBI to building a relationship with the agent who caught him, multiple times.

Public relations, technology and people are constantly changing and evolving. What works today will not necessarily work tomorrow.  If you stay stuck in your ways, you will miss out on a great deal of opportunities and potential growth, personally and professionally. Allowing your business to become stale and outdated is a sure way to fail.

Pay Attention to the Details

Public Relations Change is Good

Embrace change and try new things. It can lead to wonderful things for your public relations

All of Neal and Peter’s cases were solved because they went over every detail of their case. From finding hidden signatures in counterfeit art pieces to expertly matching a rare one-of-a-kind wine, the attention to detail made all the difference in finding and catching criminals. No detail is too small, no stone is left unturned.

In public relations, the amount of time you spend on the small details will help with the bigger picture and get you to your goals. Whether you’re reaching out to the media or spending time on social media with your followers, the details matter; it lets them know you did your homework and are invested in them (and what they care about).

Paying attention to the details is more than knowing your media contact’s demographics and audience. It’s making a note of events coming up in their schedule, such as vacations or holidays, or making a thoughtful comment about a piece they recently wrote. These personal details can often be overlooked, but when reaching out they give you a common ground, or a greater chance they’ll even open your message. While it’s not practical to get every detail of your contact’s life, even making note of their time zone can make a difference. This tiny piece of insight, while seemingly insignificant, can clue you in on the best time to send out a pitch to that person.


In White Collar, there were many times Peter had to trust Neal was not going to take off when they had to remove his tracking device, and throughout the show Neal sometimes had to act in a grey area for the benefit of the case. In order to protect the White Collar team, Peter had to trust Neal without knowing every detail. On the other side, Neal had to trust in Peter to stick to his word and the promises made. There were also times when Neal got into a sticky situation and needed to trust that Peter would have his back and help him.

Like the show, trust is a two-way street and it needs to be earned. In public relations your word is everything. Making sure you research facts, provide credible sources and information, and keep an open and honest dialogue are ways to build trust with the media, your audience and clients. Without their trust, your brand and company will suffer greatly; they need to know what you say is reliable and sincere.

Who knew you could learn so much from a suave, smooth talking, counterfeiting con artist? If you haven’t seen the show, I highly suggest taking the time to watch it; you may notice more public relations lessons that I missed!

Want to learn more PR lessons from great shows? Check out these articles:

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