How to Swing Back from a PR Disaster: Lessons from ‘Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark’
While on vacation in New York City last month, I made sure to carve out time to see the Broadway musical Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark. I love Marvel, and I love musicals, but neither of these were the reasons I went. Why? Because of the huge amount of buzz generated over Spider-man’s many negative reviews and setbacks.
What exactly happened?
What started as a dual-enemy, love-triangled, existential mess...
It was expensive: Production on the Spider-man musical started in 2007. By early 2009, the musical was already $25 million in debt and there was no firm book or score. The show stopped production while producers raised more money. When the show opened in June 2011, the budget was over $75 million.
It was dangerous: Multiple cast members suffered injuries due to the high-intensity acrobatics and flying stunts of the show. One actress received a concussion, another injured her neck, and an actor playing Spider-man fell from the stage when his safety harness wasn’t connected.
This prompted the New Yorker to run a cover of a hospital filled with injured Spider-men, and more Saturday Night Live parodies than I can count.
It was delayed: Spider-man was originally set to open in February 2010. But after budget setbacks, cast member injuries, and massive rewrites, the show’s opening was delayed six times. After being in previews for months, the show opened in June 2011.
How did the cast and crew react?
Quite simply, they pressed onward.
They took their constructive criticism to heart. After many scathing reviews about Spider-man’s awful songs and script, the production shut down (again) to rewrite the majority of the second act. The producers ousted their director, Julie Taymor, who was given too much money and didn’t want to dilute her show to expand their potential audience.
They poked fun at themselves. Producers, directors, and actors gracefully took the jabs from comedians and pundits and never lashed out from their bad publicity.
They showed the public that they can deliver. Once back in production, many critics responded favorably. Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark was also one of the featured musicals during the 2011 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
How is the show doing now?
...ended up a blockbuster, family-friendly hit.
The show is doing amazing financially. They pull in $1.3 – $1.5 million per week (They’ll have to perform on that level for five years to make up the $75 million budget, but let’s not nitpick) and consistently place in the top three grossing shows on Broadway each week.
The show is gaining more positive reviews. Instead of a snarled, dark mess, the show has transformed into a less-intense, family-friendly event. The general consensus is that the production design, acrobatics, and visual effects are breathtaking, but the book and songs are mediocre. (Author’s note: I totally agree.)
There are speculations that once the hype about injured actors dies down, the show won’t be strong enough to stand on its own. Spider-man doesn’t seem to be a musical that people will want to rush out and see again, like Wicked or The Lion King.
Don’t worry, though, the producers have prepared for that! In addition to increased online advertising and social media efforts, the producers are hoping to generate word-of-mouth buzz by partnering with radio stations across the country. Listeners from all fifty states will be flown to New York to see the show in exchange for gushing about it when they return.
But the most interesting idea under consideration is that new scenes and songs will be penned and injected into the show every year. The show wants to play on the musical’s serialized comic book origins all while encouraging fans to see the show again.
What any business can learn from Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark:
- Plan, plan, plan! Make sure your ideas are fully flushed out and you’ve budgeted for surprises before diving headfirst into a project. It might save you from a similar disaster!
- Address your upset customers, and do your best to understand their anger while keeping a level head. Ignore the haters and keep going.
- Slowly regain the trust of your customers. Consider offering discounts or giving them unexpected bonuses on their orders.
- Sustain interest and support positive PR. Once you’re gaining favorable news, make sure that people know. Broadcast it on your social media, reach out to local news outlets, and keep your content nice and fresh.
In a perfect world, you won’t ever have to worry about dealing with bad publicity. But if you find that your company has gone the way of Spider-man, at least you can learn from their mistakes and swing back a little faster.
Have you heard about the Spider-man musical and their setbacks? Would bad publicity be enough to generate interest in a brand for you? Have you ever had to bounce back from your own public relations disaster?