Last year, I decided to make a more conscious effort not to watch as much television and to read for pleasure instead. I began the hunt for a novel to dive into. I am fairly cheap, so purchasing a new book was not on my radar. I don’t have a Nook or Kindle, so electronic books were not the way to go.
I was left with the old fashioned “borrow a book” option. I raided my sister’s room and discovered a book that I thought might be interesting. It had a black cover with white and gold accents. The book was a bit bent and torn, proving that it had been well loved while being read. I vaguely remembered when my sister had read the story and was pretty sure she had liked it. So, what the heck? I decided to give it a shot.
With that decision, my Hunger Games journey began. And it did not end there.
Upon finishing the first book, I immediately sought out the second book in the series and then the third. I was telling all of my friends about the trilogy and loaning the books out as soon as I was finished with them (Yes, I broke down and actually purchased book two and three).
When I found out that a movie was being made, my heart skipped a beat. The day the trailer was released, I probably watched it 10 times in a row. I was talking about Hunger Games, tweeting about Hunger Games and following all Hunger Games media coverage. I purchased a ticket to the film’s midnight premiere a month in advance and patiently counted down the days as they passed slowly.
But when that fateful day arrived, I wanted to be more than an audience member munching on popcorn. I wanted to feel as though I were part of the phenomenon, so I went on a tour of all the local thrift stores to secure the perfect Effie Trinket garb to wear to the premiere. Yes, I was that girl in full costume, at midnight, walking into the movie theater.
So when should I expect my paycheck to come from the good people at the Lionsgate publicity department? Sadly, never. However, this idea that I was, in some ways, “working” for Suzanne Collins got me thinking: How does a simple novel gain so much recognition and drum up such a cult following? Is there really PR for this?
While Collins initially did not hire some little public relations agency in Smalltown, USA, to create a strategic plan for the publicity of her book and subsequently movie, soundtrack and paraphernalia, there is much more strategy involved than you might think at first.
First of all, originality is key. Coming up with something that has not been done before or has been redesigned in such a way that it is unrecognizable helps to set you apart from the beginning. Collins achieved uniqueness with the creation of Panem, a post-apocalyptic America. In many ways, it is a picture of issues our culture is dealing with, but she exaggerated and depicted them in a way that feels unfamiliar and grabs your attention.
Allow the cult following to work for you
Now that your audience is captured and you have fans making fake, digital ID cards for Panem, use that fanbase. Push their excitement to create a stir. This is accomplished through bringing Panem, its districts and the Hunger Games to your audience through merchandise, apparel, websites, games, etc. Through this bombardment, you will have people like me working for you, and they don’t even realize it.
Framing: “Happy Hunger Games!”
Finally, framing is key. Without reading Hunger Games or knowing much about it, a simple description of the plot could send you running in the opposite direction. There is little that is particularly “happy” or even normal about the story’s plot, which was intentional on Collins’ part, but it still creates an obstacle when promotion rolls around.
Specifically when it came to publicity for the movie, Lionsgate was extremely careful in what it did. An article from Slate, notes a few of the strategies used for the promotion of the film. Never were the words “23 kids get killed” used, but instead promotions framed it by saying, “only one wins.” Lionsgate also refrained from including any depiction of the actual violence of the games from the movie trailer. These small things go completely unnoticed by the general public but can make a world of difference.
So even when it feels like a book or a movie is selling itself, you can be sure there are far greater communication powers working hard to orchestrate everything seamlessly. And in all your PR endeavors, as they were for Suzanne Collins and the Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in your favor .