Harvey Specter, reputation protector: communication tips from TV’s most arrogant lawyer

He calls himself ‘the best closer in Manhattan’ and does whatever it takes to win. But what does TV lawyer Harvey Specter know about getting the right message to your audience?

Harvey Specter is the charismatic and – I don’t mind saying – strikingly handsome lawyer from TV’s Suits. He’s a winner. He has the best lines. He’s raking it in. And he knows more than you might think about how to get your audiences paying attention to your message.

If you’re detecting a hint of man-crush here, you might be right. And in truth, he’s not always a very nice person. But nice guys finish last, and Harvey Specter likes to win. So while he might be ruthless, manipulative, aggressive and staggeringly arrogant, he’s also the type of person you’d want to sit next to, rather than opposite, in a negotiation.

He gets the pick of the pithy one-liners, too, some of which aren’t appropriate for this blog, but some of which provide the kind of insight a slightly less handsome Scottish PR man thinks is bang on the money.

1. “What’s in it for them?” Specter’s prodigious sidekick Mike Ross frequently impresses his boss by coming up with 90 per cent of the answer to a tough question. It works for the firm, it works for the client, but there’s something missing… it needs to work for the opposing side. In communications, that can be an audience segment which doesn’t know it really, really needs your new service, or a stakeholder who’s openly hostile to your business. Think of what they might want to get out of it, and you’ll stand a better chance of sealing the deal. You’ll need to come up with your own one-liner, though.

2. “Don’t play the odds, play the man.” In one episode, Specter goes ‘all in’ at the start of a high-rolling game of poker against a corporate turnaround specialist. The stakes? A $30bn business Specter’s client lost – while blind drunk – to the same man at the poker table. A hell of a gamble, but Specter knew his adversary was bluffing, and cleaned him out within 20 minutes. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not advocating such recklessness. But it shows the importance of knowing exactly who you need to win over, and adopting an appropriate strategy which will work for the individual – even if the same approach wouldn’t work elsewhere.

3. “It’s not bragging if it’s true.” Some people are masters at hiding their light under a bushel, but that didn’t get Harvey Specter where he is. Sure, you might want to take a slightly softer approach than Manhattan’s most over-confident blowhard, since he’s loved and despised in equal measure. But there’s absolutely merit in taking credit where it’s due, and if you want to be known as a pioneer or a leading light in your field, don’t let anyone else steal your thunder. One thing is for sure: when they do, you’ll be kicking yourself.

Harvey Specter knows how to rock a razor-sharp suit, and few people could pull off that quiff, but he has (or rather, regaining my grip on reality, the scriptwriters have) also unknowingly revealed a few pearls of communications wisdom.

Who says TV can’t teach us anything? Let me know of any other characters who might be able to impart some useful nuggets.