As the old phrase goes, expect the unexpected. That is why, as morbid as it sounds, publishers often prepare for both the timely and untimely demise of many public figures. While it is a given that past presidents and over-the-hill celebrities have obits prepared in advance of death, is it so surprising to learn that young celebs like Britney Spears have one prepared at various publications?
I was in New York city this week, arriving in town just hours before Heath Ledger died. While his death was sad and unexpected, it made me think about the preparedness of business to deal with unforeseen events. Some are much more suited to the challenge.
In this case, the publicity machine that is Hollywood had put Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker at center stage of the marketing campaign for the past many months. The upcoming movie The Dark Knight had a great online campaign around the film. It was a well executed teaser campaign that generated a lot of buzz. Will they suffer from events of this week? I think not. Even if the studio takes the spotlight off Ledger’s Joker in the marketing, the tragedy and media coverage lead me to predict this installment of Batman will be the biggest grossing movie of the franchise yet. It’s a sad but likely true prediction that the film will profit from his death.
According to Jon Thurber, obituary editor at The Los Angeles Times in a recent article on the subject of pre-death obituary writing, “there’s no way to deal with the unpredictability of death.” I don’t think we can argue with that at all. However, the nature of the publishing industry is to be prepared for, and to profit from, these circumstances. And, the entertainment industry reaps some short term benefit as well. Nothing out of school here.
I loved Thurber’s quip at the end of the article that summarizes the whole issue of putting your bet on the odds on favorite; “Who in the ’60s,” Thurber asked, “would have thought Keith Richards would have outlasted John Denver?”
Who would have thought that Amy Winehouse would have outlived Heath Ledger? The seemingly predictable often surprises us in the end. How prepared is your business for the unexpected?