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DPK Public Relations President Provides Expert Commentary on PR Crisis Response to Colorado Theater Shooting

 

With roots and many friends in Colorado, DPK Public Relations' President Dan Keeney was deeply effected by this month's tragic shooting that killed or injured dozens of men, women and children. As a graduate of the University of Colorado, Keeney has kept a close eye on developments to understand what role, if any, the University may have played in triggering the gunman. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the victims and their families.

As experts in crisis communication that help organizations plan for and respond to problems and crisis events, DPK Public Relations regularly is called upon by journalists to offer expert advice and guidance. As FOX News reported:

Warner Bros. to contribute to Aurora relief fund; PR pros say studio handling crisis with care and compassion

Daniel Keeney, President of DPK Public Relations and PR crisis expert, agrees.

“There realistically is no way in the foreseeable future to extricate the Batman brand from this horrific tragedy," he said. "So instead of hoping to get beyond this, the studio needs to accept that this event is a part of this movie from this point forward. A simple way to acknowledge this and recognize as well as honor the victims is to add a slide to the beginning of the movie along with a moment of silence prior to the start of the film.”

Similar views were published in the Bulldog Reporter's story, Warner Bros. Takes Action to Stave Off Bad "Batman" PR: Studio Makes "Substantial" Donation to Victim-Aiding Aurora Relief Fund, and Pulls Trailer for Its Next Uber-Violent Blockbuster — PR Experts Offer More Suggestions For Outreach.

Keeney also spoke with the Associated Press and the comments appeared in media around the world, including U.S. News & World Report, Huffington PostThe Silicon Valley Mercury-News, Newsday, Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionKansas City Star and The Australian:

Movie massacre suspect mum; Batman mask found

Dan Keeney, president of DPK Public Relations in Dallas, said asking for silence from university employees because of a police investigation was appropriate, but taking down the website was "indefensible" for a publicly funded university unless the school believed it contained inaccurate information relating to the program. 

"It's an indefensible action," he said. "It's disappointing to hear that they would take that action because it suggests that it's not in the public's interest to have access to that information and I think it is in the public's interest."

Below is a complete transcript of the Q&A that Keeney provided to FOX News:

FOX News: Hollywood has been handling the recent tragedy with extreme sensitivity. Going forward, what do you suggest is the best media strategy?

Daniel Keeney, APR: As the subject line in your e-mail (which referred to the incident as the, 'Batman' Massacre') indicates, there realistically is no way in the foreseeable future to extricate the Batman brand from this horrific tragedy. So instead of hoping to get beyond this, the studio needs to accept that this event is a part of this movie from this point forward. A simple way to acknowledge this and recognize/honor the victims is to add a slide to the beginning of the movie along with a moment of silence prior to the start of the film. Because of the similarities between the outfit warn by the gunman and the Batman suit, any advertisement for the movie that features the bat suit or a silhouette or any violence is out of the question. Commercials can be re-cut to focus on Bruce Wayne and other elements of the story and resume running now, in my opinion. The original ads still live online, so if someone wants to see them they can, but I would wait until the DVD release to bring those original ads back.

FN: When can the Hollywood executives resume media interviews without looking insensitive? 

Keeney: My feeling is that it is all about how skilled the spokesperson is at delivering a caring, compassionate message and being able to respond to questions that are highly sensitive in nature. If the studio has people who are very skilled, can project a caring, compassionate image and can respond to challenging questions about the violence in the franchise and other potential triggers in a way that is not defensive, then there is no reason not to resume interviews immediately. That is not to suggest that the interviews should be overtly promotional. The explicit message is that we are broken hearted for the victims, their families and the entire community and we’re doing everything we can to help understand what happened so it never happens again.

FN: Should the movie executives do something for the victims of the tragedy and their families other than issue a statement?

Keeney: I would recommend adding a slide to the start of the movie that acknowledges the incident and pays tribute to the victims with a moment of silence that is permanently added to the film. It would be appropriate for a high level executive with the studio to contact the families of the victims to personally express his/her condolences. For those who are hospitalized, flowers or a gift basket should be sent. If counseling is needed for those who were in the theater, I would recommend setting aside the funds necessary to pay for counseling. I would recommend that a donation be made to the first responders as well. The knee jerk reaction is to want to donate some portion of proceeds to the families or a foundation and I’m certain something along those lines is being discussed and probably will eventually happen, but doing this could be complicated from a legal perspective. I am not a lawyer, but you don’t need to be a lawyer to know that the studio does not want to do anything that could be interpreted as accepting any degree of responsibility for this event. The movie was merely the setting for this shooting – it was merely the reason people gathered in this place. It played no other role in the event. The lawyers will guide those decisions in a way that protects the studio.

FN: Overall, how do you feel Warner Bros. is dealing with the horrible event?

Keeney: From what we know, Warner Bros. is taking a minimalist approach, which in the short-term is fine. The statement issued could have gone a little further to thank those who responded to the tragedy and acknowledge the heroic efforts of some of the victims and others who saved the lives of others. It seems clear that they want to minimize the connection between the movie and the shooting in order to protect the Batman franchise – and I don’t think that is a realistic objective. The two are indelibly linked and it would behoove Warner Bros. to accept that fact. I would suspect that Warner Bros. is doing a lot behind the scenes that we are not aware of. They will need to be reflective on lingering sensitivities about violence in their movies and they may want to consider delaying the release dates of certain films that include violence out of deference for the victims of the Colorado shooting.

Daniel Keeney
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Author: Daniel Keeney
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