Season 3 of HBO’s hugely popular Game of Thrones came to a close in June leaving fans facing a year without its array of lovable dwarves, scheming eunuchs and masochistic monarchs. This hit TV series is renowned for top-notch British talent, casual nudity and – as many a shell-shocked viewer can confirm – a proclivity for violently disposing of its heroes. What’s occurred to me recently, however, is that Game of Thrones also contains some crucial lessons in PR.
Each of the noble houses in the fictional continent of Westeros has a motto that is repeated time and again by ‘high’ and ‘low’ born characters alike. These words unquestionably define the way that the competing dynasties view not only each other, but also themselves.
For the Starks, the words “winter is coming” reflect them: no-nonsense, northern strongmen who guard the realm against what lies beyond ‘The Wall’ – exactly the reputation they want.
Conversely, House Tyrell’s words, “growing strong” are altogether less memorable. When combined with their emblem (a rose) their branding utterly fails to convey the dynamism and ambition of the house, a failure that Diana Rigg’s character Lady Olenna muses about in season 3.
For PRs, the lesson to be drawn is obvious: take time to craft a clear, memorable message and make sure you hammer it in to people (metaphorically speaking of course).
Twitter doesn’t exist in Game of Thrones but if it did, you can be sure that #winteriscoming would regularly trend, given how often the phrase is uttered by a wide range of characters.
Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.
Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, is one of Game of Thrones’ most interesting characters: a scheming grasper from a minor house with a talent for befriending the right people, even in the midst of a civil war. In a tête-à-tête with his nemesis Varys, Littlefinger exposes his ruthless opportunism, arguing that for him “chaos isn’t a pit – chaos is a ladder”. This chaos-mantra does raise an important point for PRs: be ready to take advantage of news as it breaks around you. We work in an industry so completely enmeshed with news and current affairs – judging the right opportunities to seize in order to promote your client is a key skill for success. Littlefinger is the ultimate issue-hijacker. The obvious caveat here is that Littlefinger is a man of dubious morality – a Machiavellian menace of infamous ambition. As PRs in the modern world we need to be altogether more scrupulous about which issues we hijack and why.
The night is dark and full of terrors
So, you’ve crafted a clear and powerful message and incorporated it into everything you do. You’re also totally abreast of the news agenda and are ready to respond to any opportunity that arises. All good, right? Wrong. As Red Priestess Melisandre likes to remind us (repeatedly): ‘the night is dark and full of terrors’. A very appropriate slogan coming from someone who can dispatch shadows to murder her unsuspecting enemies mid-sentence.
This is the final PR lesson from Game of Thrones: beware of the ‘unknown unknowns’. Crises can come out of nowhere, and you need to be ready to respond. All the messaging and issue-hijacking in the world won’t save your client’s reputation if you fail to appropriately deal with a sudden turn of events – something Melisandre’s victims can attest to.
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