PR Takeaways from the Netflix Series ‘BoJack Horseman’

Netflix’s recently aired comedy series “BoJack Horseman” introduces audiences to a down-on-his-luck, has-been celebrity facing the pitfalls of contemporary Hollywood culture. Along the way, BoJack’s many follies impart lessons that translate surprisingly well to the challenge-fraught world of public relations.

Be warned: major spoilers ahead.

Learn from the past, but live in the present

BoJack’s inability to move past his glory years and tendency to act as if he owns the world leads to a string of poor life choices, including sleeping with the drug-addicted actress who formerly played his daughter and stealing the “D” from the Hollywood sign.

A lesson learned: former success doesn’t ensure present success. If PR professionals want to succeed, they must look at the current landscape and be strategic about how they tackle business challenges. Playing by the old, established rules is a recipe for disaster.

Be a Zelda, not a Zoë

BoJack’s frenemy, Mr. Peanut Butter, is the star of another former sitcom where he played father to pre-teens Zoë, a brooding, sarcastic introvert, and Zelda, a sweet, bubbly achiever. This spawns a cultural craze wherein a person is labeled a “Zoë” or a “Zelda” depending on their personality. When BoJack points out the absurdity of lumping everybody into two binary camps, he is quickly ostracized as a “Zoë.” Although he is astute, he’s characteristically abrasive when making his argument, and is written off.

In PR, we have days when we are coordinating multiple high-priority projects, leaving us feeling much more Zoë than Zelda. Still, it’s critical to maintain the appearance and tone of Zelda even in the most stressful times. Clients want to speak to Zelda, even if the pressure’s mounting on your side of the phone.

Appreciate your Diane

The first season’s main plot focuses on BoJack’s relationship with Diane Nguyen, a ghostwriter drafting BoJack’s autobiography. After witnessing BoJack’s vain, self-absorbed actions Diane writes a scathingly honest draft including BoJack’s flaws and insecurities. After reading it, BoJack kicks Diane out of his life instead of facing his failings, losing a friend in the process. When Diane angrily leaks the first chapter online, her story about a flawed, relatable celebrity proves a smash hit with readers.

A PR professional will eventually meet a colleague or client whose criticisms seem harsh at best and scathing at worst. In order to grow as a professional, it’s imperative to know how to step back and realize that often, this feedback is not meant to hurt or belittle, but guide us on the path to improvement.

Erin LaFavor