And the Oscar Goes to … Public Relations

The buzz for the 84th Annual Academy Awards proves yet another success for the public relations gurus behind it all. Film critics waited with their pens and paper (and iPads and iPhones) for the 2012 Oscar nominations, announced early Tuesday morning. The announcement is Oscar’s first strategic PR move. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences executes the release of these names with as much precision as the event itself, preparing for the best and worst from publicists, critics and actors.

Planning the annual event is a year-round project, and as former director of communications Leslie Unger said, “…movies are released every week,” so the work is continuous. Unger has represented the Academy Awards since 1992 and said that over time, her team has had to be more savvy and sophisticated about publicizing and marketing the show.

“Sending out press releases and relying on traditional media to communicate the information to the public is still something we do, but it is [not] the only thing we do,” Unger said in a 2011 interview with Public Relations Society of America.

The Oscars have come a long way in their branding tactics. Their media contacts are key players in their success, as is their social media engagement with fans of the award show. What began as an idea of creating an organized group to benefit the entire film industry in 1927, is now the most-viewed award show on television. In 2011, the 83rd Annual Academy Awards had an estimated  21.97 viewers tune in to the three-hour event.

The Academy’s marketing, communications and online staff now report to Christina Kounelias, chief marketing officer for the motion picture academy. Kounelias’ team is engaging with audiences through creating constant Oscar-related content and communicating through social media channels. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences/ The Oscars Facebook fan page has more than 300,000 “likes” and tweets nearly non-stop to more than 110,000 followers. While their numbers are big, they still attempt to engage with those fans and followers in their comments and re-tweets.

As part of their Oscar strategy for 2012, the Academy’s marketing created a YouTube channel for viewers and fans to upload their most memorable Oscar experiences. Sarah Skerik, vice president of products for PR Newswire said “engagement occurs when the recipient of a message – whether that message is a news release, a video, a blog post or a news article – takes an additional step after consuming the content,” and that’s exactly what the Academy marketing team is doing with the video content others are providing. Be re-tweeting fan messages and posting the YouTube videos on Facebook, potential viewers feel an instant connection with an award show that is otherwise impossible to manage.

Event planning is a crucial component of public relations and the most popular award show in the film industry is no easy feat. The challenge presented to the Academy’s marketing is that while their audience will always be there to fill the auditorium, their viewers at home may not. It’s important to know how to keep fans happy and engaged throughout the year so that they make continue to be a part of the most prestigious night in Hollywood.

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2 Responses to And the Oscar Goes to … Public Relations

  1. Jessica Von Schell says:

    Thanks for the post! I always watch the Academy Awards, but just like the magic of movies, I never consciously realized just how much effort went into planning the red-carpet event. I think you are absolutely right about the primary challenge for the Academy staff — getting viewers at home to watch the event. Utilizing social media outlets will certainly help engage viewers and there are many opportunities to develop applications. For instance, they could create an app that would allow the audience to vote along with the show (even though the winners are pre-determined) or comment on the celebrities’ outfits.

  2. Marshall Eckert says:

    The Academy Awards are one of the most famous events of the year. However, over the past couple of years viewership has been down due to the lack of popular movies that have received nominations. However, it is interesting to see the targets that the Award show is attempting to grasp by bringing in younger hosts and younger presenters. One way that the audience could become more engaged would be creating opportunities to predict nominees and winners on social media platforms prior to the announcement. The event should create more buzz this season because of the presence of big name stars including Brad Pitt and George Clooney. It will be interesting to see this year whether the audience numbers drastically increase. The Oscars need invigoration, and time will tell how they do this. One way to create more buzz is to create a shorter show, as people often become bored after one or two hours.

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