Making Communications a Piece of Cake — Lessons from The Great British Baking Show

If you’ve been following our blog, you know that we’re always looking at pop culture through a PR and communications lens. In this post, 3Points Content Manager Katie O’Shea explores a few of the lessons we can learn from one particularly delicious TV show.

The past year and a half has been a tough one, but through it all, there has been a place where people could escape: a pastel-colored world inside a festival tent, nestled within the idyllic grounds of an English country estate. Inside this tent is a bevy of Britishisms and baked goods, seemingly untouched by global chaos. The name of this little paradise? The Great British Baking Show.

If you’ve never seen the show, the premise is simple: it’s a baking competition. Amateur bakers from across the U.K. compete to win a crystal cake stand and glory during each season. These contestants run the gamut because they are, after all, ordinary people with lives outside of the kitchen, but they all share a passion for baking. The show has had changes in hosts and judges since it debuted in 2010, but has remained highly popular in the U.K., U.S., and Canada.

What that description doesn’t convey is the spirit of the show. It might sound, on its face, like other competition shows you might have seen, but it is not. It never strays into the bitterness, fighting, or malice that reality shows are prone to — the final product here never leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

With the show’s 12th season now airing, I decided to dig into what the show can teach us about branding, communication, and life. (Note: there are no spoilers for the show in this post.)

Below are some of the key ingredients:

Building your personal brand is powerful — just look at Paul Hollywood.

Even if you haven’t seen the show, you may have heard of one of its judges, Paul Hollywood (who could forget such a name?). As the only judge who has been on the show from the beginning, he has had ample opportunity to build a personal brand — being hard to please and serving up dry one-liners. Yet, although he can be tough, he is also fair; when a baker does an excellent job, he will extend his hand to them and offer a “Hollywood Handshake.” We as an audience, even without being able to taste the bakers’ creations, learn to trust his opinion, because he is always candid, whether his feedback is positive or negative.

He has been able to parlay this reputation into other food-related TV program opportunities and recipe books, and while none of those have been as successful as The Great British Baking Show, they are nonetheless a testament to the power of a personal brand. Establishing a personal brand allows you to demonstrate to the world what makes you different from others and why they should heed your expertise. (Read more about how to build your personal brand in this post from our blog.)

A good product takes time (but be careful not to overdo it).

Sometimes, when bakers are in the midst of completing a challenge, they begin to rush and end up missing an important step in the process. Other times, bakers get so focused on getting each step early in the process correct that they end up running out of time for the final steps and are forced to skip or rush through them. Almost always, those hurried moments are reflected in the final product.

Especially when you’re feeling under pressure while working on a project, it can be tempting to prioritize speed over accuracy. However, that leads to “a bad bake.” Taking the time you need to do each step well, without getting too bogged down in the details, leads to outstanding work.

Don’t take criticism personally (and don’t make criticisms personal).

When the judges tell a contestant they’ve produced “a bad bake,” it’s not a reflection on them. It’s just about the quality of the dish. Without dragging in insults or attacks on people’s character (*ahem* Gordon Ramsey *ahem*), the judges explain what could have been improved about the dish (e.g. pointing out when something has been baked too long or not long enough), with the intent of helping people improve.

Because of how the judges deliver the feedback, the bakers, by and large, take it well; if interviewed in one-on-ones afterward, they express that they understand the critique and want to do better in the next challenge.

That style of critique is helpful to keep in mind whenever you give feedback. The goal should always be to help people improve, focusing on the work someone is presenting and not critiquing the person. If you’re the person receiving feedback, and the feedback is framed constructively, be sure to take a step back and consider the words before reacting, then use it to inform your future work.

Don’t focus on how well other people are doing — just measure your success against yourself.

One of the most curious aspects of this show is the fact that contestants almost never stray into talking about how well or poorly someone else is doing. Unlike many other reality shows, this one does not thrive on interpersonal drama; in the one-on-one interviews and in the tent in general, people only dwell on how they could have improved their own work.

At the same time, contestants on the show often actively help one another. If someone is struggling to finish a challenge in time, someone who is further along or already finished will often step in to lend a hand. There never seems to be a thought of “if I help this person, I’m giving my competition an advantage.”

Staying focused on the quality of your own work and not comparing yourself to others is critical for success. If you’re constantly using others as a measuring stick, you won’t have the ability to be truly innovative (and you’ll experience a lot more anxiety).

Even if you don’t conquer one challenge, stay focused so you’re prepared to take on the next one.

In the tent, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes bakers struggle with one of the three challenges in an episode, but if they’re able to shake it off and keep their head in the game during the following challenges, they can successfully make a comeback and stay in the competition. The key is to remember that every challenge is a fresh start and not let the past get to you.

This lesson can be tricky for us to remember during hard times (especially in times like these), but it’s something for us all to keep working on. Particularly if we keep in mind that everyone is facing their own challenges (baking-related or otherwise), root for one another, and accept others’ support, we can all keep our heads up and reach the finish line successfully.

Want help cooking up a communications strategy worthy of a Hollywood Handshake? Drop us a line at info@3ptscomm.com.