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The Hunger Games: A case study in PR

Undergraduate | Dec 12, 2016 |

imageWhen Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, it created a stir. Compared with the 16-year-old protagonist fans of the book series envisioned, Lawrence was older, blonde rather than brunette, and unknown.

Building momentum for the release of the first movie among the very loyal fans of the young adult book series was crucial to the film’s success, said Susie Aron, managing director at Rubenstein, the public relations firm retained by Lionsgate Entertainment to help promote the film series.

“The fans were outraged, so [author] Suzanne Collins, who is painfully shy and rarely does interviews, tweeted that she was very pleased that Lawrence would portray Katniss,” Arons said. That simple communication helped to redirect the initial negative reaction and got fans on board.

Arons discussed the Hunger Games series in her presentation on promotional and defensive PR at Fordham last week as part of the marketing lecture series.

Another important goal of the public-relations efforts for the film trilogy was to be “true to the books, which were about war,” Arons said. “We needed to be sure they weren’t perceived as kids killing kids and also distinguish them from the then-popular Twilight series, which was more of a love triangle.”

To achieve those goals, the marketing and PR teams decided that promotion should focus on the characters rather than the actual games. “We revealed the tributes to the fans on social media,” she explained. “Today, that’s typical, but even just five years ago, it was very new.”

In order to engage other audiences in addition to young adults, the PR team used a variety of media outlets to promote the upcoming films. “We used the New York Times, Forbes, Redbook, Wired, and GQ to get the adults.” That mix, she added, is nearly unheard of for one PR campaign.

During the talk, Arons pointed to two unexpected crises that caused the film’s marketing and PR teams to set their work aside in the interest of “doing the right thing.” One was the 2015 Paris bombing, which coincided with the final film’s launch party there. The producers, cast, and film crew responded by scaling the launch down significantly.

The other crisis Arons discussed was the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was part of the cast of Mockingjay – Part 2. He was nearly through filming with only two scenes left when he passed away.

Arons recounted how the crew stopped filming immediately and shifted their focus to Hoffman’s family. (Hoffman and his longtime partner, Mimi O’Donnell, had three children together.) The script eventually was rewritten.

“The most compelling part of this presentation was hearing about how marketing and PR professionals deal with real-life situations,” said Olga Alpeter, MBA ’17. “It’s eye-opening to see that these are real people facing situations they have to work through. A key takeaway is knowing that there are big businesses out there where doing the right thing is encouraged.

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