What ‘Game of Thrones’ can teach about PR

The noble citizens of Westeros are constantly trying to one-up each other, either in battle or through destroying reputations. Who’s winning the PR portion of the game?

HBO’s “Game of Thrones” provides its fans with compelling and nail-biting entertainment through intricate plotlines and diverse characters.

With the hit series winding up its fourth season June 15, it occurred to me that in their quest to claim the Iron Throne, the various groups and characters could be the subject of one big old public relations case study.

Not convinced? Consider the following groups of characters and then decide whether we all can learn a thing or two from the fine citizens of Westeros.

(Note: I’m referring to the television series and not the books so there are no spoilers here—unless you haven’t caught up with season four.)

1. The White Walkers. Like a big, ominous corporation shrouded in mystery, no one exactly knows what these guys are up to, besides riding zombie horses and building a blue-eyed infant army with Craster’s sons. Theories abound on what their role will be as the series progresses, with some even saying the White Walkers are actually the misunderstood heroes. No one is really sure, though.

Unfortunately, when you don’t communicate your group’s mission clearly and regularly, that information gap breeds fear. In the White Walkers’ case, a little friendly interaction could go a long way.

2. The Lannisters. Rich and powerful, the Lannister family gets props for having a clear-cut vision and executing it to near perfection, but they aren’t winning any People’s Choice awards, either. From pushing kids out windows to false imprisonment, the Lannisters are alienating their target audience and losing followers in their quest to control the message.

This approach works for them now because they have power and intimidation on their side, but it’s a classic case of winning the battle and losing the war. A Lannister might always pay his debts, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of turning off supporters.

3. The Starks. The noble and righteous Starks may be the antithesis of the Lannisters, but they’re not doing themselves any favors. So often ruled by emotion rather than logic, the Starks rush into situations and make rash decisions before fully weighing the consequences.

For instance, Ned Stark went to Cersei Lannister with the discovery that her kids are actually the result of conscious coupling with her brother and are not, in fact, the legitimate heirs to the throne. Catelyn Stark impulsively agreed to her son’s arranged marriage in order to cross a bridge. Then Robb Stark ignored the contract. Probably not the best ideas, guys.

4. Daenerys Targaryen. Dany got a tough start in life—what with being exiled with her jerky brother, an arranged marriage barely into her teens, and losing her unborn son and husband at the same time—but the girl’s got dragons. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade.

Dany understands she has a lot to learn if she’s going to be an effective leader and (mostly) listens to her advisors, who provide valuable information about the needs and wants of her target public. (Catapulting boxes of collars and chains from a slave kingdom she liberated to another slave kingdom? Brilliant.) This season, she wisely has chosen to focus on connecting with her audience through good, old-fashioned, two-way communication. With luck, she’ll continue to engage her target public and earn their trust.

5. The Night’s Watch. Yeah, we’ve all been there. You know there’s a lurking danger, whether it’s your brand’s competition, a grass-roots opposition effort, or even the shortcomings of your own product. You warn your superiors, but your pleas fall on deaf ears.

Jon Snow must have felt the same frustration this season when he tried to tip off his fellow Night’s Watchmen about the imminent attack led by Mance Rader and his Wilding army. Equipped with firsthand knowledge about the inner workings of the army, Jon said the Night’s Watch had better prepare for the worst-case scenario, but he was told he knows nothing.

Maybe it’s the isolating 700-foot-high wall that makes them feel safe, but ignoring warning signs while basking in the glow of smug superiority is a recipe for disaster. Always have a crisis communications plan, just in case.

Tara Erwin (@terwin) is a public relations manager at SKM Group, a full-service integrated marketing communications agency.

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Topics: PR

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