Category Archives: Crisis managenment

Cinematic Savvy: The Dark Knight

The Cinematic Savvy series is designed to explore themes and ideas from certain films. Inspiration can be drawn from characters, their quotes, their circumstances, historical approaches depicted – it’s my blog, I’ll take it where I get it. I love film and I love PR. Let’s see how they influence me.

Come on. You knew it was coming. This blog started out with a post about Batman so why shouldn’t the franchise be included in the “Cinematic Savvy” series?

Now, this was an incredibly delicate situation. Heath Ledger was already inspiring much anticipation for the film before his death. Reports of his extensive and seemingly obsessive preparation for the role were rampant. His death only heightened that anticipation, enlarging and redefining the audience to movie-goers who might not be interested in the story, but would absolutely go to see the actor’s last film.

In my first post, Saving Face, I addressed the question of how publicity for the Dark Knight should continue, giving the film the publicity and energy it needed while still respecting the actors death for what it was, a death and not an opportunity on which to capitalize.

PRWeek, in an effort to not only answer that original question, took it a step further and asked what the result was. In an article asking whether or not the publicity campaign for the Dark Knight was a hit or miss, called it a hit attributing its success to the ‘posthumous Oscar debate’ which ultimately drove attention to the dead actor and his performance rather than to the overall genius of the film all the while driving massive profit.

Another lesson in reputation management, crisis management and ethics all at the same time for this PR novice.

Chew Him Up, Spitzer Out: Lessons On Spin From A Pro

What a relief this Eliot Spitzer scandal is! A nice break for journalists trying to peddle the tired story of the growing Clinton-Obama-McCain “we’re good friends, but don’t respect each other’s policies”-triangle. A nice break for readers trying to stay interested in it. Oh! And the blogging opportunities! I can just see a young Christian Bale as a “Newsie” celebrating this latest golden headline and vending his “papes” with renewed vigor. It’s perfect! Here is the champion of decency, steadfastly intolerant of the corrupt and duplicitous among elected public servants, slain by his own silver bullet. Kind of. According Kimberley A. Strassel of The Wall Street Journal, the press are still trying to revive him.

As if this story wasn’t interesting enough, many people are starting to question why he thought he’d get away with it. In a scathing recent article, Strassel asserts that the press acted more like pre-teen NSync groupies when they covered him than like a balanced commentating voice: The unrelenting loyalty of the press is why he thought he could get away with it.

From the article: ‘”You play hard, you play rough, and hopefully you don’t get caught,” said Mr. Spitzer two years ago. He never did get caught, because most reporters were his accomplices.”

“[Gov. Spitzer] played the media like a Stradivarius.” Ouch! She then goes on to cite several cases in which the media not only turned a blind-eye to Spitzer’s indiscretions, but they also praised him for his commitment to the “people’s causes”.

This brings up an interesting point. Is it OK for the press corps to take sides on political movements and candidates? For example: The New York Times endorsing candidates. Is it instances like this that solidify the argument of an opinion-free press? Strassel asserts that one of the most important jobs of the press is to be political watch-dogs. If this is true and the circumstances in the article also true, then the press failed miserably.

Not that it was their fault entirely, according to Strassel. What we have here, is a master of spin. Spitzer knew what the media wanted and he gave it to them. He knew what would grab their attention and he worked it whether it was crusading for causes or feeding journalist friends with insider information.

Are you taking notes all you aspiring celebrity publicists?

…I honestly don’t have much else to say about this. Strassel has delivered the story beautifully and most importantly, thoroughly. All I can do is sit here with my friend Dan and shake my head at my recent discovery of the frailty and vulnerability of the modern press corps, professionals I admire and respect, people who have set standards and examples of excellence that I am instructed, daily, to emulate. What am I, a journalism major, what’s more, a PR major who has to constantly reconcile the needs of a client with social ethics, to take from this?
All I’ve left to conclude is: Britney Spears, if you want to get the media back on your side, call Eliot Sptizer. He’ll probably be looking for a job soon.

This seems brazen. Even before I publish it, I’m nervous to do so. What do I, a student, know about the ways of the world other than what I’ve been told? My idealism hasn’t been truly put to the test. “Oh yeah, Soto? Let’s see if you can find a job when you come down from that soapbox!” I suppose this post is just me needing to know that the pursuit of ethical practices and social responsibility is worth it.

*Image courtesy of http://www.gawker.com

Is It A “She-Thang”?

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, er – yesterday, I am compelled to devote this post to my sex. To my delight, the New York Times article Boldface in Cyberspace: It’s a Woman’s Domain delved into a new site called “Wowowow: The Women on the Web” which features blogs and articles written by professional women. Most of them have backgrounds in media like Leslie Stahl, and others are groundbreaking entertainers like Candice Bergen and Whoopi Goldberg – all of them brilliant contributors to our intellectual culture. It isn’t enough to say that these women and many of their colleagues stimulated me and my rabid educational and vocational pursuits. They motivate me daily.

It is with this mindset that I explore a new question: Is PR a women’s industry?

Now, first, as a disclaimer, I’d like to point out that I’m a student blogger and my topics are mere questions that I face and answers that I find. These might be brazen claims, but they are prompted by the fact that my internship and PR classes are female-dominated and this leads me to question whether that is the nature of the industry.

Sorry, guys. It is not my intention to ostracize. I also don’t wish to ostracize my own sex with the assertions I’m about to make based on clichés. I, rather, wish to question why I feel so comfy in PR. If we consider the stereotypical female persona, the one so often caricatured in sitcoms and their accessory traits – a persona with which I often identify- and compare it to PR, are they are perfect fit?

1 . PR is about communcation: We handle situations by talking. Not only that but we learn methods of talking that help us shape our message so that people understand us. We even adopt cadences to our voices to give us credibility and authority as we make our arguments and appeals. We tailor our language to each audience. Oprah says this is healthy so we do it.

2. PR is about relationships: My life is relationships, family, friends, boyfriends, teachers, bosses. I think about relationships, I talk about relationships. I’m good at relationships. Not only that, I manage my relationships. What’s more, I look for new ways to be better at managing my relationships. And if you’ve ever watched Sex and the City, this is in every episode.

3. PR is sometimes about SPIN: There are times when some publicists are forced to talk out of their badonkadonk in order to manage a client’s reputation. Some might call it being manipulative. I call it good celebrity PR.

4. There’s a soothing nature to PR: In a time of crisis, our client’s causes become our own and we form a Florence Nightingale attachment. It’s a natural, and, dare I say, nurturing response.

5. PR is SEXY: Sometimes it’s about talking the talk and walking the walk. It’s about perception and attraction. It’s about flashy marketing stunts and reputation make-overs.

6. Lastly, PR plays games and likes gossip: PR people play word games and mind games. And now, more than ever, we play these games to create buzz or gossip about our clients and their work. We love it when things go viral. We go crazy when everyone’s talking about it. It makes us want to talk about it more so that we can generate more buzz and have a final authority on the situation: “Actually, I heard on TMZ that this is Lindsay’s fifth time in rehab, not fourth.”

Obviously, this list is not representative of every woman and these are very much some things in which both men and women participate. It does, however, bring some insight about why I, for one, enjoy PR. It speaks my language. It uses my tactics. It mimics my voice. It demands my kind of communication. It calls to me.

*Image courtesy of http://bothhands.files.wordpress.com 

Mischief Managed: Recovering From PR Blunders

In my spare time, I’ve been reading Jane Eyre and at one point in the lengthy conversations between Mr. Rochester and Jane, I felt very convicted by something he said to her in an argument: “You are afraid – Your self-love dreads blunder.”

Here is something to which I can relate. I don’t know if it’s self-love that drives me or makes me hesitate, but I do think it is, to some extent, a fear of mistakes or messing up. I’m a cautious and slow mover. I fear that my chance and risk-taking won’t pan out to success. My question is, when you mess up, how do you recover? This isn’t crisis management but, to reference to Harry Potter, “mischief management”.

In a recent article by Keith Ferrazzi, Founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a strategic consulting and professional development firm, he gives advice on how to deal with both personal and professional mistakes and blunders.

1. Get some perspective: This makes sense to me. In the grand scheme of things, assess how much does this really matter?

2. Assess and forgive yourself: In the grand scheme of YOU (and/or your company), how much does this mistake represent?

3. Come clean: Trust comes from full disclosure and free-flowing information. This goes for all relationships, personal and professional. At least in my experience.

4. Get back on the polo horse: I don’t really get why he stipulated that it was a polo horse, but I’ll take it. Move on by moving on. Prove to everyone that this mistake doesn’t define you or your work.

This is very good advice and coupled with what I’m learning in college, it should help in at least assessing and projecting recovery tactics for PR blunders and mistakes. In my PR classes, my instructors have presented the “wrong” ways to do things and even given us some examples of easily avoidable blunders and then how they were mishandled. The media is full of such situations. I’ve even blogged about them (See “Let’s Rethink This”).

For example, let’s look at former aide to Barack Obama, Samantha Power and how her off-hand and insulting remarks toward Hilary Clinton cost her a comfortable advising position in Obama’s campaign when Hilary didn’t accept her apology. What’s worse is that she’s a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a Pulitzer prize-winning author. Apprently, in an interview with The Scotsman, a Scottish newspaper, she called Senator Clinton “a monster” in an off-the-record comment which the paper ended up publishing.

How was this mischief managed? She quit. She also went to the press.

According to the Irish television network RTE, Power told a reporter, when asked if she regretted her comments, “Of course I regret them, I can’t even believe they came out of my mouth.” She went on, [Sentator Clinton] is also incredibly warm, funny. I’ve spent time with her. I think that I just had a very weak moment in seeing some of the tactics, it seems, that were getting employed.”

This is all well and good, but let’s see how this fares in Keith Ferrazzi’s 4-step formula.

Did she:

1. Get some perspective? Yes – and she decided that this blunder would cost the Obama campaign more than her pride was worth. In the grand scheme of things, it mattered.
2. Assess and forgive herself? Sure. Or at least she’s getting there. Her press follow-up showed her remorse and regret over the situation and that she was looking to move forward.

3. Come clean? Well yes, the initial incriminating interview actually did that for her, and her above-mentioned press follow-up allowed her to own up to her mistake and apologize for it.

4. Get back on the polo horse? Well I don’t know. In an interview with the Boston Globe, she said that she resigned from her aide position to remove all of the distractions that her comments had brought on the campaign. That probably includes staying out of the public eye now that she’s had a chance to put an apology out through the press. I can’t find anything other than her RTE interview. If you can, please let me know via comment.

All things considered, I think Samantha Power handled it as well as anyone could. And now that I have some idea of how to handle mistakes, I hope to be inspired to drive my decision-making with my aspirations and goals rather than let it be bridled by my fears of screwing up. It seems to me that mistakes and the managing of them are essential experiences and that they can only benefit my understanding of PR and add to my ease as a future practitioner.

I can only hope Samantha Power eventually sees it that way if she doesn’t already.

*Image courtesy of PrAsanGaM via Flickr.

Saving Face

Maybe it’s uncouth for me to, as a reaction to an actor’s recent death, wonder how Warner Bros. will rework their huge viral marketing campaign for the upcoming film, The Dark Knight, co-starring the late Heath Ledger, which is due to open this summer.

As an avid Batman fan, I’ve been anticipating this film since I found out Ledger was playing the Joker – there were several rumors that Jack Nicholson would reprise the role. Being an avid fan also makes me a prime target for the “leaked” images of the haunting mutilated face of the joker which brilliantly turned into recent banner ads for Facebook and Myspace so that even if your internet activity is limited to networking sites, exposure to the campaign is almost guaranteed.

For months now, Warner Bros. has invested in a pumped up viral marketing plan and been maintaining a static site of the Batman which now serves as a link to the Warner Bros. official message of condolences for Heath Ledger’s passing. However, around the same time as the website launch, according to blogger Kaitlyn Wilkin’s blog Catch Up Lady, false campaign posters for “Harvey Dent for District Attourney” – Harvey Dent is the alter-ego of the Batman villain “Two-Face”.

The images to the right are both from Wilkin’s blog.

These unmarked posters appeared in major cities like Los Angeles all of which were defaced within 48-72 hours as though by the Joker. These posters coincided with a url – ibeliveinharveydenttoo.com which then launched an e-mail campain ultimately sent users back to an interactive promotional site.

According to Alex Billington of hollywoodchicago.com, the marketing Einsteins at Warner Bros. had a huge presence on the web through an online version of the fictitious newspaper The Gotham Times and a website for the Gotham transit system – both of these sites, like the posters had a conversion phase in in which the Joker has seemingly overtaken the sites. Their online presence has, by the nature of discourse, created its own free buzz campaign in the blogosphere. People are going crazy about these promotions. This method harkens back and could well have been started by the Snakes On A Plane phenomenon or the recently HBO-picked-up Flight of the Conchords who got their big-break on YouTube.

The thing that’s cool about this, is that it’s relatively easy and cheap to pull off. It’s the proven age-old formula of strategic and clever posters paired with the available and basic technology of easily launched websites and e-mail campaigns which are driven by a cult with such a huge and die-hard following that its success is inevitable. It’s a dream promotional campaign for an independent film company, but it’s being carried out by a studio who has the dream budget.

This brings us back to the reworking idea that I mentioned at the beginning of the post. The problem with this campaign in conjunction with the untimely death of Heath Ledger is that it’s very centered around the character of the Joker. The death of the actor evoked a strong reaction in Hollywood as well as his legions of fans – fans like myself who, as a teen-aged girl, fell in love with his rugged Australian looks and charm in movies like Ten Things I Hate About You and The Patriot.

That said, with many of their ads featuring the actor’s mutilated and painted costumed face, reactions are no longer of excitement and anticipation, but of sorrow and remorse for the actor’s death.

So what does a studio gearing up to launch a summer blockbuster do? Well, according to Brandweek’s The Biz, the promotional partners, like Hershey’s who came out with Bat symbol shaped chocolates will not rework their campaigns because they, unlike Warner Bros. centered their campaigns around the main hero, rather than the Joker. The article says that Warner Bros. has not commented on any change to their campaign which prominently feature Ledger’s character and his edgy and flashy reinvention of the role.

The only change I could find was the previously mentioned static site which features Warner Bros.’s message of condolences. This last move was appropriate because the studio’s probably going into crisis management and going to have to balance the rest of the campaign which would normally be working its way up to its promotional peak without looking like it’s exploiting the tragedy. Quite the public relations pickle.

This PR saga is very near and dear to me as a follower of the Batman cult so I’ll be following this subject very closely, for sure. Stay tuned, all.