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Lessons from the big screen in reputation management

28 July 2014

If you’d never heard of Secret Cinema before last week you probably have by now. This underground cinema movement was set up to provide a new experience for cinema lovers. It’s about much more than the film. It’s a cinema spectacular with a party in keeping with the film genre. Actors help to recreate the look and feel of the movie and participants are encouraged to dress in costumes in keeping with the theme and shell out over £50 per ticket. But the latest Secret Cinema screening of Back to the Future (BTTF) has been more disaster movie than sci-fi. Since Secret Cinema announced plans to show BTTF, over 84,000 tickets were sold but technical and operational problems have resulted in the first few showings being cancelled at the 11th hour. Fans took to social media to vent their frustration and the director, Fabian Riggell, probably wished he could get back to the past to fix the problems, but was very much on the back foot.

The reputation of Secret Cinema has been left in tatters. Over the last ten years Secret Cinema has built trust and loyalty with an army of movie buffs. They’ve shared their experiences by word of mouth and through social media helping to swell the crowd of fans.

Trust and loyalty are qualities that take a long time to build but can be lost in the blink of an eye and have a damaging impact on reputation. What should Secret Cinema have done differently? Quite simply they could have planned better. This was the most ambitious Secret Cinema adventure yet, involving constructing a replica of the town in which BTTF was based. You didn’t need a crystal ball to anticipate that operations might not be delivered on time. There’s no secret to effective crisis management. It’s all about planning ahead, thinking about what might go wrong, anticipating how you will respond and having a rigorous communications plan in place to inform everyone who needs to know in a timely fashion.

In Secret Cinema’s defence at least the director stepped up to handle the fall out and face the wrath of criticism. He realised he’d messed up and I think his apology came across as authentic but for many fans it was too little, too late. I’m not sure how the plot will end but this episode shows how important crisis management is to protecting reputation.

At Forster Communications we’ve been at the forefront of social change for two decades. We work with businesses and organisations to help them develop and promote their reputation by building trust with partners and stakeholders. There’s no secret to what we do, just plenty of experience.