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5 Christmas films and what they teach us about PR

By Garth Garland, marketing manager at Mynewsdesk.

We’re all very particular when it comes to getting in the mood for Christmas. As soon as the calendar flips over to December, some of us are ‘ho ho ho’ while others are ‘no no no’.

I’m probably in the former camp, and the humble Christmas flick helps raise my festive spirits right up until the big day. And like basting a turkey each film adds a glossy layer, until Christmas is so shiny I can see my face in it!

So what has this got to do with PR?

Ha! Good question. At best, the link is tenuous (sorry!). But December is often a time when we’re finalising our strategies and budgets for the year ahead. As such, I wanted to highlight some of the PR essentials through the medium of something fun.

Christmas films are usually dripping in sentimentality and optimism, picturesque imagery and tear-jerking emotion… it’s Richard Curtis-land, sprinkled with snow and wrapped up in a hug. Because of this, you get strong themes, moral learnings and life lessons that are transferable across all walks of life.

And yes, perhaps my fave films don’t all conform to the ‘traditional’ archetype above, but they are still chock full of learnings that I hope you’ll find entertaining.

Home Alone (1990)

Home AloneIf you’ve not watched it then shame on you! The story focuses on eight-year old Kevin who is left home alone by his family during the Christmas holidays. While on his own, he protects his house from a pair of bungling burglars with a raft of home-made traps.

So this is a no-brainer, both as a shoo-in for Christmas viewing and as a very obvious learning.
Planning is everything.

Kevin’s family plans a holiday to Paris – flights, hotels, connections, head counts, the lot. Despite this, a power cut the night before results in the family oversleeping and subsequently rushing around to try and catch their flight. In the chaos, Kevin is forgotten. Perhaps with a little contingency on timings, the mayhem could have been avoided (albeit leaving us without a film in the process). Key takeaway? Factor in plenty of time to achieve your objectives.

Secondly, Kevin is quite the strategic mastermind. He thinks about his audience (in this case two robbers) and plans his traps accordingly. By assessing his assailants, Kevin is able to identify the entry points they’ll use and the journeys they’ll take through the house. Simple eh?! Know your audience. Map out the customer journey, identify the channels they use and work out what you want them to do.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before ChristmasTim Burton’s classic film is full of his customary dark humour and catchy songs. The main protagonist – Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town – loses his joy for Halloween. He stumbles across the bright lights of Christmas Town, and taken with the idea he tries to take over the holiday, applying his Halloween approach.

So our first learning is that it can be mundane and uninspiring to continually follow the same routine. We need to occasionally take risks and try new things to capture the attention of our audience. Originality is a huge part of creating an engaging story. Without it, our campaigns might fall on deaf ears.

However, Jack’s approach to Christmas is somewhat darker than the traditional version. It results in many a child being left seriously spooked. As a result, we learn a saccharine sweet moral… stay true to yourself (yuck!).

In PR terms we can take this to mean keep your identity. Whether working in-house or for a client, retaining a brand’s essence, voice and story is important to ensure consistency, authenticity and relevance. There’s no one size fits all approach. Trying something new is great, but be targeted and know what your audience wants.

Elf (2003)

ElfSON of a NUTcracker! Elf has got more feel-good factor than a basket of puppies eating ice cream for charity. It follows the story of Buddy, a human who’s been brought up by elves at the North Pole. When he starts to become too big for his surroundings, he’s encouraged to head to the USA in search of his father and his true identity.

Heading into the big wide world is a huge change for Buddy. His chipper disposition, childlike naivety and unbridled passion for all things Christmas, is also a huge change for the people he meets. One such person is Buddy’s real father, Walter, who has to learn to prioritise his family over his work.

In this way, we learn that it’s good to be adaptable… in fact you have to be. PR and comms professionals deal with an ever-changing media landscape. New trends and technologies, the latest strategies and ways to stand out from the crowd. We often have to re-evaluate our priorities and ways of working to get the best results.

And for a cotton-headed ninnymuggins, it’s difficult not to be impressed with Buddy’s infectious optimism and love for his craft. Having a passion for what you do is often evident in the work you produce. So whether it’s creating a PR campaign or spreading Christmas cheer, remember the reasons why you’re doing it.

Die Hard (1988)

Die HardIs it a Christmas film? Yippee-ki-yay it is! Picture the scene: German terrorist Hans Gruber takes several innocent people hostage during a Christmas party. No-nonsense cop, John McClane, takes matters into his own hands to try and save his wife, the hostages and prevent a large-scale heist.

It’s out-and-out action gold. The dynamic between hero, villains and bureaucrats is great, each one looking to gain insights on the other to use it to their advantage.

The police and FBI are in touch with Gruber via two-way radio to gauge his demands. They also speak with McClane who provides insights about the terrorists, their numbers and how professional they are. They also overhear one of the hostages being killed (Harry Ellis) casting aspersions on McClane.

The bad guys take control of the building’s security cameras, helping them monitor the police and FBI. They discover a SWAT team attempting to siege the building and subsequently repel them. Later on, Gruber watches news coverage of his terrorist incident. He finds out that one of his hostages is in fact McClane’s wife, who he uses as a hostage to try and escape.

And throughout, McClane keeps tabs on his adversaries, gleaning as much information as he can to help avert danger. What does this all spell? The importance of monitoring of course! Not just to track your coverage, but to monitor your competitors, industry and trends to help inform your actions and prevent a future crisis.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1947)

It's A Wonderful LifeUp until now, the films I’ve chosen have been relatively modern. So let’s roll the clock back to an absolute classic Christmas movie. It’s A Wonderful Life introduces us to George, a thoughtful, hard-working businessman who never got to fulfil his ambitions. A financial mishap puts him in a difficult position, so much so that he considers taking his own life. To prevent this from happening, an angel by the name of Clarence shows him what life would have been like if he never existed.

To help give context about the situation, Clarence’s angelic compadres show him the good deeds and sacrifices George has made during his life. George saves his brother’s life, who would then go on to save an entire transport ship of people in World War II. He prevents an incorrect prescription from poisoning someone. He takes over the family business when his father becomes sick, and gives up his honeymoon, vacations and money to help the townspeople.

Clarence in turn shows George an alternate reality where he doesn’t exist. His brother never gets saved, and as a result the transport ship isn’t saved either. The drug store owner where he worked gets put in prison due to the faulty prescription being issued and killing someone. The family business goes under allowing a greedy tycoon to take over the town, turning it into a hotbed of sleaze and disorder.

What does it all mean? For me it’s about the importance of realising your successes. Once you’ve finished a campaign, it’s very easy to move straight onto the next one. We should look at the good work we’ve done. Not just to learn from it and replicate, but to take pride in it and celebrate our wins.

So… quick round-up

  • Home Alone is about planning and customer journeys.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas is about taking risks and retaining brand identity.
  • Elf is about being adaptable in a changing media landscape.
  • Die Hard is about the importance of monitoring.
  • It’s A Wonderful Life is about realising successes and celebrating them.

Who knew?!

I think all of these Christmas films demonstrate the power of good storytelling too. It’s this emotive, story-driven approach that has been so successful for John Lewis’ Christmas ads, along with a whole bunch of other brands. And whether we like them or not, they’ve now become annual events in their own right, creating great coverage for their respective companies.

Anyway… thank you for indulging me in this bit of fun and enjoy the festive season ya filthy animals!

Home Alone 2

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