It's the season for ghosts and goblins, which makes it a good time to look at problems that often bedevil brands and communications professionals. Scary movies can tell us a lot about PR, such as:
Trust is crucial (“The Thing”)
In John Carpenter's 1982 classic of fear and paranoia, a shape-shifting alien, able to perfectly impersonate other living beings, invades a small Arctic research camp. As the dozen or so team members discover its presence and realize they can't know who is human and who is not, their ability to work together falls apart. As Kurt Russell's character Mac says at one point, "We're all very tired, and nobody trusts each other."
As a communicator, your audiences must be able to trust you—to know that you're representing your brand or your client accurately and truthfully. Without trust, the entire PR enterprise is doomed. If you get caught being duplicitous or misleading, it's very difficult to re-establish trust with your audience. Always make sure the people with whom you're engaging can trust you.
A clear message is essential (“Alien”)
The crew of the space vessel Nostromo in Ridley Scott's 1979 “Alien” are awakened from deep sleep when the ship receives a message of unknown origin, believed to be a distress call. As part of the crew goes to investigate, others work on deciphering the message, only to discover that rather than being an SOS, it's a warning. Unfortunately for them, it's already too late.
Ensure that you always focus your communications on a single, clear, understandable idea. Reduce the risk that your audience might misunderstand or become confused by making sure that all parts of your communications plan are in sync and supporting that central message.
Pictures work better (“The Shining”)
Young psychic Danny Torrance, in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 thriller “The Shining,” is isolated for the winter in a remote Colorado hotel with his mother and father. When he finds himself in danger, he summons help from Florida in the form of hotel chef Dick Halloran, by sending him a powerful mental vision of what's happening. (We'll ignore that said help promptly gets himself killed. The strategy worked but the follow-up was poor.)
Pictures and other multimedia are essential to helping your audiences understand your message. Not only do they make it more likely that your communications will be engaged with in the first place, they can tell your story in ways that words can't. Always make photos, graphics, and videos a key part of your communications plan.
You should always have a crisis plan (“The Cabin in the Woods”)
In Drew Goddard's genre-bending 2012 “The Cabin in the Woods,” five college students plan a weekend at an isolated mountain cabin, only to find themselves at the mercy of powerful, hostile forces. When the tables are turned, however, those forces turn out to have no plan for coping with potential disaster.
What if your company website goes down suddenly? What if your CFO accidentally reveals something material in an interview? What if your company has a product mishap? The way to successfully navigate a crisis is to have a plan in place before disaster strikes. A detailed crisis plan that involves all departments and covers as many contingencies as possible, step by step, will help guide any brand through potential problems.
You shouldn’t get complacent (“Dawn of the Dead”)
The three men and a woman fleeing a zombie apocalypse in George Romero's 1978 “Dawn of the Dead” find themselves in an indoor shopping mall where, after much preparation and zombie-killing, they're able to isolate themselves, settle in, and avail themselves of all the goods the stores have to offer. Their comfort and routine end up blinding them to potential threats.
It's easy to get into a routine and do what's always worked, but modern PR and marketing communications demand that you be willing to try new things. Consumers and media get their information in a lot of fast-moving ways, and you have to be willing to adapt to new channels and new ways of communicating and to find opportunities as they happen.
In the comments, please tell us about other PR lessons you've learned from your favorite scary movies.
Phil Dennison is senior marketing specialist at Business Wire. A 17-year veteran of the company with experience in editorial, sales and marketing, Phil is also a regular contributor to BusinessWired, the company's blog. Find him on Twitter @pdennison.