Remember the Iron Man Misfire? Here’s Why Time and Place Key Components of Effective PR

Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s where and how you say it. Case in point, Goodrich Quality Theaters’ attempts at a “clever” promotion for Iron Man 3. It’s been a while, but this PR fiasco still makes a lot of lists of “worst ever” consumer PR misfires.

Here’s the setting: Goodrich wanted to do something special for moviegoers to help celebrate the opening of Iron Man 3. So… they hired actors to dress as “SHIELD” agents for the movie. The outfits were simple: uniform tactical gear and fake guns. Now, if this was Comicon, that might have been well-received. But, because this was a movie theater, less than a year after the Aurora theater massacre, and the patrons were not expecting “armed” men in tactical gear to invade the theater, panic ensued.

Countless 911 calls were made, and Jefferson City police responded to what they thought was an “active shooter” situation. Fortunately, before the police (or any patrons) started shooting, theater managers explained to the cops what was actually happening.

Despite nearly-universal, forehead slapping from anyone who heard the story, Bob Wilkins, who managed that Goodrich theater at the time, said he made the right call: “There was no scenario that could have possibly been misconstrued for dangerous at all except for this one random overreacting guy…”

Did you catch that? Mr. Wilkins chose to blame the “actor,” for scaring people… people who had been inundated with wall-to-wall coverage of the Aurora shooter. Later, though, Capital 8 offered an apology for the incident, offering “sympathy” for those “who felt they were in harm’s way with (the) character promotion… We didn’t clearly tell our customers and some people didn’t realize it was for entertainment purposes only…”

“People didn’t realize…” And there you have a clear indicator of the communication breakdown. This was supposed to be all in fun to enhance the experience, but, between the plan and the performance, a lot was lost in translation. The theater realized its mistake, but realized it too late.

So, let’s look at why “time and place” are key factors here. Just based on the fact that some theaters do this kind of promotion for superhero movies, it’s easy to understand things from Mr. Wilkins’ perspective. To him, it was business as usual. However, in the months after the Aurora shooting, it should have been obvious to anyone in the theater business, that it was, in fact, not business as usual for patrons.

For those moviegoers, the specter of a murderous gunman dressed as a movie character was all too fresh. Had Goodrich tried this before Aurora, it may have gone off without a hitch. But afterward? The likelihood that customers might feel the “gunman” was the real deal, should have been considered.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian is the founder of 5W Public Relations.

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Ronn Torossian is CEO & Founder of 5WPR & one of America’s most notable PR executives. He is the Author of best-selling PR book, “For Immediate Release.“

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