The Age of Tiptoeing

By: Ashley Jones

A New Age?

It’s a familiar social media storm: the summer’s biggest movie hits theaters. The crowd-dividing show airs its finale. In an instant, pop culture phenomena populates our timelines and web streams. Memes, excitement and backlash follow in a matter of minutes.

If you’re in PR, you know the effect well — for better or worse, it parallels reactions to brands and product campaigns. On more channels than any mere human can keep up with, ideas and opinions spread like wildfire. Just as quickly, they’re forgotten.

Things move so fast that “Age of Technology” no longer feels like a fitting title for the experience of communicating in today’s world. So, are we living in a new age?

Not the age of technology, but the age of tiptoeing?

Latest Victim: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones’ recent finale was met with overwhelming negativity from even its most dedicated, decade-long followers and devotees.

Prior to the finale, the show’s producers were the butt of a colossal online joke: trollers and casual onlookers alike spotted the infamous Starbucks cup in a scene of a broadcasted episode. It was a facepalm moment for the show’s video editors, yet the blunder resulted in “billions” of free PR and advertising for Starbucks as posts were shared and tweets retweeted hundreds of times across social platforms.

The show responded in a perfect manner, equal parts humor and GOT appeal: “News from Winterfell. The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake. #Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea.”

While this may have been an embarrassing PR learning moment, it was a moment of humanity. An opportunity for fans of the show to have a little lighthearted fun.

But then, there was the response to the show itself.

After the finale aired, fans were up in arms — signing petitions, demanding the series be rewritten and scrutinizing the writers for rushing the final season.

When people care about something — a product, a company, a campaign or a dragon show — the emotional reaction is immediate. And thanks to social media, individuals can share those immediate reactions, well, immediately.

For those of us working in PR, this influx of emotional response can be overwhelming.  It raises questions:

  • How do we avoid these situations?
  • How do we handle these situations, when they arise anyway?
  • What do we do when a brand is, by no doing of its own, caught in the middle of the latest “outrage”?

What if?

Take Avengers: Endgame for example.

Before the film was even out, multiple brands had capitalized on its impending release, creating Avengers-related campaigns and ads.

The film was heavily anticipated, setting industry records left and right. And it brought fans to tears in theaters — mostly in a good way.

What if Avengers fans had reacted to the movie in the same manner as GOT fans? What if there were blunders? Upsets? Offenses? Would those      brands be associated with the negativity? Does the old saying, “Any press is good press” still ring true?

With audiences ready to immediately analyze, scrutinize and pick apart scene by scene, second by second on platforms where the information can spread to thousands in the time it takes to open a can of La Croix, it can feel like a tiptoeing game whose end goal is to not cause an uproar. While advertising and film have always required authenticity, thought, and discretion, do they require even more foresight than ever before?

These occurrences remind us as PR practitioners to:

  • Do the research – Know your demographics and the latest news in the industry.
  • Listen and take part in the conversations – Keep up with what your audience is thinking, saying and don’t be afraid to communicate with them.
  • Be genuine – Stay true to your brand, always.
  • Be prepared – Have a crisis communication plan in place, just in case.

As far as tiptoeing? The simple fact is it’s impossible to appease everyone.

Create good work that you’re proud of and stand by it. That may be a career-long challenge. But PR professionals like a good challenge, don’t we?

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