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7 Crisis Lessons From 'The Hunger Games'

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Fans from across the world have become enamored with reading—and watching—Katniss Everdeen battle her way out of the arena.

Within the first day of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” presales, the film accounted for 80 percent of Fandango’s ticket sales. The series has broken box office records and more than 50 million copies of the original novels have been sold.

The dystopian world of Panem, the government of which sends child tributes to fight to the death each year, contains plenty of social commentary, but there are many crisis communications lessons to be learned. Here are seven insights:

1. A good spokesman can make all the difference.

“I’m still betting on you, girl on fire.” – Cinna

Katniss Everdeen becomes an unlikely hero after volunteering to save her sister and defying the Capitol. Though she never wanted to be the symbol of the rebellion, people in Panem’s districts relate to and listen to her—hallmarks of any great spokesman.

People want to do business with people and companies they know, like, and trust. People also are willing to extend forgiveness and understanding in those same circumstances. A company’s spokesman should be relatable and transparent during crisis situations.

2. Use hope, not fear.

“Fear does not work as long as there is hope.” – President Snow

President Snow knows a world can’t be kept down by fear alone, which is why the winners of the games were such a powerful symbol of hope to many in the districts.

Successful crisis communications pros know that to minimize damage, one must get ahead of the situation. This includes keeping customers in the loop to build trust, sharing resources that ease uncomfortable situations, and being proactive with the media.

Want a bigger crisis on your hands? Remain mum, and let the hysteria build things up to a fever pitch.

3. Don’t resort to backstabbing.

“Katniss, when you’re in the arena, remember who the real enemy is.” – Haymitch Abernathy

It’s the collective effort of the tributes in the arena, in collaboration with conspirators behind the scenes that brings the revolution to the next level in “Catching Fire.”

Throwing competitors, employees, consumers, or reporters under the bus only serves to make your company look weak. Instead, PR pros should focus on the positive, smoothly distancing themselves and their clients from negative sources of attention.

4. Have a good strategy in place.

“I just don’t want to be another piece in their game, you know?” – Peeta Mellark

Each of the tributes in the arena selects a different strategy, but those who constantly survey the environment for threats survive the longest.

Companies that weather crisis situations have a strategy in place long before trouble occurs. These strategies are best when they use insights gathered from PR pros who monitor trends, brand sentiment, and consumer concerns.

5. Don’t lie.

“My dear, I think we can make this so much simpler if we agree not to lie to each other. What do you think?” – President Snow

The common temptation when in the hot seat is to lie to make the situation go away. Not only is it often ineffective, lying adds even more risk, and when uncovered, becomes a bigger crisis situation than if you came clean at the start.

Most people won’t believe the lies, anyway. Katniss’ part of the “star-crossed lovers” bit at the end of the first book is only believable in the moments that she allows herself to truly care for Peeta.

6. An organization is only as good as its weakest link.

“It must be a fragile system, if it can be brought down by just a few berries.”– Katniss Everdeen

One of the most powerful quotes in the series—adapted as the tagline of the rebellion by District 13—comes from Katniss as she surveys post-bomb damage:

“Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!”

Brands may have a solid PR team, but if an organization’s foundation is shaky, there’s only so much PR execs can do before the system collapses. Avoiding a crisis falls to all employees, from entry-level workers to CEOs.

7. Only play games if you can handle the consequences.

“You fought very hard in the games, Ms. Everdeen, but they were games. Would you like to be in a real war?” – Plutarch Heavensbee

Though Snow thought he was teaching Katniss about the realities of war and the consequences of rebellion, he and President Coin eventually learn those lessons the hard way.

Companies such as Uber may pull ahead with cutthroat tactics against their competitors and critics, but they’re not making friends in the process. In fact, recent troubling remarks made regarding the company’s media strategy inspired many to cancel their accounts. Don’t play with fire unless you want to get burned.

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