Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Brownian Motion

You finally create PR gold. You know that everyone in the world will listen to your message and your client will want to give you a great big bonus payment and possibly bear your children. You know that this is a career changer.

And then this happens...

Neil Marshall was set to see his film "The Descent" open in cinemas on the 8th of July, it was his second feature as Director and it was going to be a far bigger opening than his first cult classic "Dog Soldiers". The film is the story of cavers who get trapped underground and then... well... things happen.

I interviewed Neil Marshall after the DVD release of 'The Descent' and he spoke eloquently about the difficulties of the publicity campaign, but it no doubt shook him, and certainly took its toll on the box-office.

Why am I telling you this?

It seems that PR professionals are often guilty of having 'project blinkers' on. They get to the end of a project with a release date and a final outcome and they don't look up to see what else is happening.

In the case of the publicity for 'The Descent' there was no way of knowing that a horror film would be a bad idea on July the 8th 2005 (let alone one that was about being trapped underground) and the publicity was rapidly changed. If there was more time between event and release then I suspect the release date would have been shifted.

This example is famous and extreme, there are hundreds of messages sent out every hour that will just not work, the story is old, the agenda has moved on, something more important has rendered the message meaningless, it has suddenly become distasteful due to a change in popular opinion. If you get caught on the cusp of these changes then your perfectly pitched story idea is just going to be ignored or in certain cases serve as a warning to others.

I can't tell you how many press releases have been sent to me over the years and I've just thought 'How did this happen?' it'll be from a smaller agency that's building it's client base, they'll be pushing to get the PR out, possibly a junior member of the team has pressed the send button after a cursory glance over from a team leader and it will be out there. The hope is that they stop at me, the journalist, but they often build thier own head of steam in public. Take Quantas for example...

Quantas the Australian Airline have managed to screw their own PR with their own Bad News doing the job of many journalists in one fell swoop. The story in a nut-shell is that they break off union talks about staff conditions and contracts and then proceed to ask about Luxury on the twitter feed for a competition #Quantasluxury.

Did anyone think that may be a bad idea?? Anyone?? Seriously?? No-one?? To appear to care little for their staff and then to ask about Luxury?? The project couldn't have been stopped?? This is a great example of project blinkers coming together with The Brownian Motion of News.

Watch how news works, and watch how stories bounce off each other, how the interplay of public opinion and attitudes towards life circle round each other. Consume the media that your target consumes, become them and anticipate what the reaction will be and when to just pull the plug and rest an idea... then you'll never have to resort to PR damage limitation.

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