The key to survival, to draw on Charles Darwin, is one’s ability to adapt. As our environment changes, we must be able to change with it, lest we go the way of the dodo.
It’s part of a public relations professional’s job, as counselor, to be able to look ahead, to see the trends that are impacting our client’s industry and make strategic recommendations so that pitfalls may be avoided.
I was musing on this over the weekend just before screening “CONTAGION” at the Landmark Theaters off President Street in downtown Baltimore.
I’m reminded of how many in the film industry shuddered at the thought of that new fangled device, the “television,” how it would mean the end of movies—why go out when you can be entertained at home for free?
Yet, somehow, movies survived. Film theaters realized that, in addition to offering a huge screen (though with what’s available nowadays, even that can be replicated at home), they knew they had the coveted “event” factor on their side.
If you’re going out on a date, you don’t take the person home to watch TV..at least not on the first date. Is there anything more American than the first-date-dinner-and-a-movie?
There’s also something exciting about standing in line with fellow film enthusiasts, waiting for that anticipated movie that’s finally here…whether that was the LORD OF THE RINGS or new STAR WARS flicks, being there was an event, people in costume, people reminiscing about reading Tolkein’s trilogy or musing on the past films in the STAR WARS saga.
Smart theater managers maximized this and held additional special events to raise interest (and ticket sales). My own Chesapeake Fencing Club, for example, was given permission to give swordplay demonstrations for both the LOTR and STAR WARS films when these appeared at Baltimore’s historic Senator Theater.
But of course, chances are watching a movie at home on your own couch in your full body Snuggie is more comfortable than sitting in a theater next to a crying baby and people who won’t stop talking on their cell phones.
So, what do you do about that? Well, at the Landmark Theaters where I saw Gwenyth Paltrow die in the first 10 minutes of CONTAGION, they’ve installed well-cushoned, leather-like seats with retractable arm rests with built-in cupholders. Not bad. Next step would be to make all the chairs like Barcaloungers…hey, if you can recline and put your feet up, you’re one step closer to that “just like home” feeling (but please, don’t wear those Snuggies outside, eh?)
Of course, no theater that I’ve visited has ever found a way to offer snacks at prices that might not cut into your child’s college fund–$9.75 for a water and a small popcorn? Hey, I thought we were in a RECESSION, shouldn’t you be cutting prices? And perhaps that’s an idea—offer people who buy a theater gift card of $50 with special perks like low-cost for all snacks, free movie tickets for your birthday, or a month’s free use of an at-home film service like NETFLIX or BLOCKBUSTER…see, another way to build relationships with liked-minded organizations.
Community relations is a part of PR and movie theaters are mindful of this—one reason people go to the movies is the opportunity to visit nearby shops and restaurants. For example, my movie companion and I noted a variety of furniture and home stores as well as a number of eateries, such as the Charleston (where I’ve dined several times) ; that evening we actually drove to the nearby Blue Hill Tavern. Again, the point is, going to the movies offers people attractions that they can’t get at home, and it’s important to be mindful of that in any promotion.
Perhaps local restaurants might offer coupons for reduced prices in movie tickets in exchange for patrons dining there. Similarly, movie theaters could do the same thing. Buy a block of movie passes and get 50% off your next dinner-for-two at the restaurant across the street.
Of course, sometimes people lose sight of the brand…and what is a movie theater’s “brand” btw? Brand is the emotional response that comes when one thinks of the product or service. You think of MOVIE THEATER and you think POPCORN, BIG SCREEN, AND NO COMMERCIALS.
So, why oh why, have so many theaters used the time before the movie runs to show COMMERCIALS on their screens? The thought instantly comes into one’s mind, “Why am I sitting here watching commercials and PAYING to do so when I can see that at home for FREE…or NOT see them by changing the channel???” There is no “channel changer” at the movies…at least not yet.
In truth, I’ve seen theaters cut back on this; there were no “commercials” prior to CONTAGION this past weekend, at least none that I recall…just a lot of previews which many people still say are their favorite thing about going to the movies. So that’s one thing that you DON’T have to change!