This interview with Viola Davis, ostensibly about her upcoming movie Widows, has gotten a lot of press attention.
Almost none of that coverage included mention of that movie. Instead it focused on comments she made about her previous movie The Help and how she felt the finished product didn’t quite make the impression she wanted.
The same thing happened when actor Kit Harrington made off-hand comments about how nice it would be for a gay actor to take the lead in a super hero movie, overshadowing anything he said about The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. And while promoting Lizzie, Kristen Stewart couldn’t avoid questions about the upcoming Charlie’s Angels reboot she’s part of.
You see it all the time too when actors who have or are about to star in super hero movies keep getting asked about those films instead of the smaller independent movies they’re currently on the publicity circuit for.
If I’m a publicist or studio marketing executive, I’m wondering just how much ROI I’m actually getting out of sending these actors out there for anything other than the big franchise tentpole movies.
Let’s put it like this: Roadside Attractions arranges for Stewart to be in Toronto to help get the word out for Lizzie. Let’s say it’s counting on getting 30 media hits in top-priority publications because that’s going to result in reaching 10,000,000 people. The studio needs that earned media because it doesn’t have a whole lot of budget for paid efforts, so needs organic hits to generate awareness and interest.
But in reviewing the coverage report they see while all 30 publications did write about Stewart, 20 of them focused on Charlie’s Angels, only tangentially mentioning Lizzie. They check out the interview transcripts and see 90% of the conversation was about Lizzie, with just a few comments about the other movie. So it’s not Stewart’s fault, it’s that the press is so eager to unlock any tidbit about these high-profile blockbusters because they generate such reliable traffic through social and search. Regardless, the value of that media exposure has diminished by 60%.
(Let’s overlook for the moment that this approach is often taken by the same press and media that decry the prominence of blockbusters on the movie landscape and claim to crave smaller, more challenging films.)
What, then, is the incentive for putting any publicity effort in the next time if the movie ostensibly being promoted is pushed to the side in favor of some random aside about a franchise film? The studio won’t see the value they anticipated from doing so. Instead they’re basically providing free air support for the studio of the competing film.
At some point the math no longer makes sense. The costs incurred in providing access to talent won’t be justified because the returns have all but evaporated because the studio can’t control the press.
The solution? Owned media.
Not being able to control which angle the press takes, or not being able to fully communicate the key messages on a particular initiative were – and continue to be – the primary benefit to corporate blogging and other programs. And while studios have made strides, particularly in the last few years, in doing more with producing their own video featurettes and interviews, they’ve never taken to blogging in a substantial way.
At some point someone is going to do the math and realize there’s more value to be had to publishing material on owned platforms and skipping all but the most choice, valuable media opportunities. Otherwise they risk continuing to have their best efforts sabotaged every time an actor goes off-script in an interview or a member of the press only wants to talk about something other than the topic at hand.