what a cop show teaches us about comms

As communicators we are surrounded by learning opportunities. But can we learn about comms from a TV show? One communicator thinks so.

by Darren Caveney

Now I love film and tv. I mean love. Mrs C, in our early days of ‘courting’, once made the mistake of asking me what my favourite film was. 20 minutes later I had drawn up a top 50 for her. I was pleased with my work, she should have realised right then that she was dating an anorak.

But TV can be just as special as film. By TV I don’t mean most of the dirge that gets thrown our way in the name of entertainment. No, I mean the seriously good stuff – The Wire, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad. I’ve seen them all.

But my favourite all-time TV show is the peerless NYPD Blue – a gritty show about New York City detectives battling to fight a never-ending wave of ‘douch bags’, ‘perps’ and ‘pimps’ in the city’s 15th precinct.

I have recently just re-watched the whole lot – all 12 seasons, spanning 261 episodes. That’s equivalent to 8.1 days of TV. And I loved every single minute of it. See, I told you I was an anorak.

Part of me always quite fancied being a detective - I reckon I’d have a nose for a wrong-un – and this probably added to my love of the show.

The lead character is the tough, hot-headed, recovering alcoholic Andy Sipowicz and his amazing 12-year turn earned him no less than four best actor Emmy’s. He’ll remind you of some miserable, rude, bad tempered people you’ve encountered from time-to-time. But to know him is to love him. You realise that he has the heart the size of a bucket, is fearless, breaks rules (and bones) to do the right thing and would absolutely be your pick if you found yourself in a ‘jam’.

Watching the show these past few months, I’ve realised that, whilst fictional, it is rammed full of life lessons as well as some pretty smart pointers for use in the day job.

So here are my top three comms lessons from NYPD Blue.

1. Saying what you think…

Sipowizc is brutally honest. Off-the-scale honest, in fact. As comms people we often dance the tricky line of telling it how it is and having to play diplomat. We won’t always get it right, of course, but perhaps a bit more Sipowizc-style honesty wouldn’t go amiss – No, you can’t have a comms plan by tomorrow”, No, you shouldn’t be spending money on branded pens, and “No,…  (add your favourites here - you know the kind of thing)

 Maybe I’ll have some ‘Sipowizc says no’ t-shirts made up for just this occasion.

2. Get to know people. Even the ones you don’t like

Sipowizc is so flawed he is constantly hanging on the his job, his family, his friends, his life. It’s not just his fight with alcohol or his bigoted views. His short fuse could set off a scuffle in a telephone box. He is probably someone you’d avoid in real life. But that would be a shame as actually he has so much to offer and so much to give. You just need to give him a chance, well, more like dozens of chances.

You’ll no doubt have people at work who you don’t like, that’s natural. But maybe, just maybe, we should give them a second chance. We might still dislike most of them afterwards anyway, but interesting new relationships might just emerge. And those people may have a lot to offer in helping us do our jobs better.

3. “People. Places. The things they do. The times they do them.”

In a poignant scene in season three, Sipowizc takes his eldest son, Andy Jr, on a field trip to a local ‘corner’ in downtown New York ahead of him joining the force as a beat cop.

He tells his son that:

“a good beat cop knows this: People. Places. The things they do. The times they do them.” “understand this and you’re on the way to being a good cop.”

And actually that is the basis for any decent comms plan, if you think about it: people, places, things and times.

Watching the final three episodes of the show on Saturday, I reflected back on the scenes from the 12-year experience that had compelled me, shocked me, entertained me and made me laugh. A couple of times it even made me cry.

Maybe being a cop and being a comms person isn’t so different after all.

Darren Caveney is co-creator of comms2point0

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