What PR Pros Can Learn From Edith Bunker

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Edith Bunker was nobody’s fool. We were reminded of Edith’s tenacity (and heart) when we learned this weekend that Jean Stapleton, who portrayed Edith in the groundbreaking TV series “All in the Family,” had died. (She was 90.)

All in the Family,” the top-rated sitcom in the early 1970s, focused on the travails of the intolerant, yet lovable Archie Bunker, his wife Edith, their daughter Gloria and son-in-law Mike, who Archie commonly referred to as “Meathead.”

Considered the first “socially conscious” sitcom, the show tackled hot-button issues such as abortion, war and welfare. Archie and Mike constantly bickered about politics while Gloria tried to play referee, often to no avail.

But it was Edith who was the moral compass of the show. She seldom took sides and preferred to get all the facts before making a final decision.

Not getting swept away by all the drama—in Edith’s case, the right wing and left wing fantasies of Archie and Mike, respectively—is just one lesson that Edith Bunker can offer PR pros.

Recalling Edith’s joie de vivre, here are a few other things that Edith can teach communicators as they navigate an increasingly complicated media terrain:

Persevere: Archie often referred to Edith as “Dingbat,” and when her explanations started to meander (as they often did) he implored her to “stifle yourself!” But, like any good PR exec who is suffering from biased (or wrong) information, Edith stuck to her guns. She kept the power of her convictions and, when vindicated, never chose to gloat.

> Defuse tense situations: Edith was invariably caught in the verbal crossfire between Archie and Mike. She would let both sides vent before coming up with a phrase or solution that would take the teeth out of the specious arguments being foisted on her by Mike and Archie. As PR execs move into more strategic areas and deal with other marketing disciplines, they’re going to have to work harder to maintain their equilibrium against ideas that are inevitably going to clash.

Get every side of the story: In one episode of “All in the Family,” Mike and Archie regale the family with their versions of what happened when their refrigerator needed repair and they called an electrician to remedy the situation. Both versions are wildly skewed toward the political biases that Archie and Mike hold dear. But it’s Edith—by having a crucial piece of evidence and, more important, no axe to grind—who tells the story most accurately.  By the same token, PR pros can’t let certain biases (by their boss or their top client) encroach on sound thinking and doing what’s ultimately the right thing. 


What do you think? Are there any other ways that Edith Bunker inspires PR professionals?

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1