Warner Bros. regroups on PR for ‘Dark Knight’

Studio in crisis-management mode in wake of deadly shootings

Forced by tragedy to re-evaluate its marketing and PR plans for “The Dark Knight Rises,” Warner Bros. was poised to cancel the remainder of the pic’s international press tour.

The studio also lost a significant amount of marketing exposure for the pic on Friday as TV spots for the pic were dropped by numerous networks out of viewer-sensitivity concerns. There were reports that Warner Bros. had taken steps to limit some of its TV marketing for the pic but that was strongly denied by sources close to the situation in Burbank.

The scramble on Friday came hours after a gunman killed 12 people and wounded more than 50 others at a midnight screening of “Dark Knight” in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo.

With media coverage of the shooting blanketing the airwaves on Friday, Warner Bros. execs went into crisis-management mode as they reviewed promo and marketing plans for the pic in light of the massacre. The studio moved quickly to cancel Friday’s scheduled premiere of the pic in Paris, and by day’s end a source with knowledge of the situation said it was leaning toward tabling the rest of its international press tour.

The studio had not made an official announcement of its international plans as of late Friday afternoon. However, WB is expected to cancel next week’s premieres and press junkets that have been scheduled for Mexico City and Tokyo. The events would have featured red-carpet premieres with stars such as Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway along with screenings of the film.

In the frenzy of news coverage of the shooting rampage on Friday morning, some nets proactively decided to pull the spots that had been set to run for the pic. There were conflicting reports as to whether Warner Bros. eventually asked for all blurbs to be pulled for the weekend or whether some nets took the initiative on their own.

Sources at two of the Big Four broadcast nets said the studio made a request to pull “Dark Knight” spots that had been set to run this weekend. However, this was disputed to sources close to the studio, who insisted that all marketing efforts that were already in place before the shootings would proceed as planned. In most cases, spots that were pulled by the nets will be reskedded to run at a later date.

The loss of millions of dollars worth of commercials during the pic’s opening weekend is a vivid illustration of how significant an impact the mass shooting will have on the tentpole that had been the cornerstone of Warner Bros.’ summer movie sked. One marketing expert estimated the value of the film’s TV spots on its opening weekend at $3 million-$5 million.

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