Today (August 9), District Court Judge William Sylvester will hear a motion brought by 85 media outlets to unseal the court case against James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora movie theater shooting. Holmes has been charged with 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder.
Holmes has already made two court appearances in what is sure to be a long and extremely emotional legal process. In the three weeks since Holmes allegedly opened fire during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 and injuring 58, the way we see our world has drastically changed. We have had to face the stinging reality that tragedy can occur in the most unlikely of places, and inevitably we are all looking for someone and something to blame.
In our quest to make sense of a senseless act, it seems that Warner Brothers, the film studio that produced the Batman movie series, was an easy target. Initially, critics were questioning the violent nature of the films and Holmes himself claimed to be “The Joker,” enemy of Batman. While no one was outright blaming the film studio for this tragedy, Warner Brothers recognized its inherent involvement and the need the respond.
Over the past few decades, crisis communication has become one of the most important tenants of a company’s public relations strategy. Yet, it seems that brands are still struggling to master the delicate balance of crisis management. Examples of bad PR dominate, from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, to the Penn State University scandal and most recently the Chick-fil-A political conflict and social media missteps. In a crisis, consumers get to see the true colors of a brand and most often they don’t like what they see.
It is refreshing to finally see a brand that understands there are some things more important than driving sales. Immediately following the Dark Knight shooting, Warner Brothers released a statement extending their sympathies to “families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time.” Also, the company canceled press interviews and the film’s premiere in Paris, pulled ads from some TV networks and delayed the release of box office figures out of respect for the families and victims. Christian Bale, the actor who plays Batman, visited those hospitalized in the aftermath of the shooting. Warner Brothers stated Bale was representing himself and not the company, but his visit certainly showed the humanity of those behind the Batman franchise.
Too often we see bad situations made worse by companies failing to act or acting poorly. Warner Brothers has definitely raised the bar on crisis response and even corporate management, proving to the world that it has its priorities in order and people come first.