Do you remember the book “Gone Girl” written by Gillian Flynn? Whether you read the book, saw the movie starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, or both, I think most of us had the same initial reaction of “wow, that’s messed up.” But after joining the Culloton + Bauer Luce team and recently re-watching the movie, I found I had a different reaction and understanding of what the story really demonstrated. The entire plot line illustrates the power of the media, public perception and, therefore, public relations.
“Gone Girl” shows us that a well-planned strategy can influence a situation whether you are causing the problem or responding to it. Reputation management is not about the truth; it is about managing the media, and in turn, public opinion of your story.
Without spoiling the story for those who have not read or seen the movie, here are some lessons in crisis communications the main characters teach us, or in the case of any communications professional, remind us:
1. Amy Dunne, although she was clearly crazy, was disciplined, detail-oriented, and created a long-term strategy to get out of a marriage she was unhappy in. She created her own image, defined a very clear narrative that she wanted others to believe and provided details to support this narrative. She anticipated the decisions of others and their actions and used this knowledge to prepare and deliver a consistent message through a variety of different ways.
2. The media can be the judge and jury in the court of public opinion. If you don’t feed the beast, it can eat you alive. Nick Dunne, by refusing to tell his side of the story, allowed the media to create a narrative that used his actions out of context to make him a villain rather than a victim. Nick learned the hard way, like many of our clients, that “no comment” is not always the best move.
3. As Nick eventually learns, every word, every gesture, including the clothes you wear and your body language, must be meticulously and strategically planned because every small detail matters. Choosing the right media, the right time, and the right way to tell your story are all essential in planning your response strategy in a crisis. This is why it is important to bring in experts to help you navigate these situations – and why hiring a good crisis communications firm is just as important as hiring a good lawyer – because the court of public opinion can decide a case far before it ever even goes to court.
This article was updated by Courtney Clemmons. Courtney is a trained marketing communications professional with extensive experience strategizing and executing impactful stakeholder communications.