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PR Fail: Cinemark Offers Families of Aurora Shooting Victims Free Movie Passes
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Going to the movies typically puts people in a good mood, what with a mouth full of popcorn and an eye full of screen. Good times, right?

Rewind to last July when during a screening of 'The Dark Knight Rises' in Aurora, Colo., James Egan Holmes punched his ticket to the most sweltering spot in hell as he shot more than 70 people and killed 12. In fact, just this week, the long-awaited preliminary hearing for Holmes had been set.

That's important for the timing of this story because apparently Plano, Texas-based Cinemark (owner of the Century Theaters in which Holmes destroyed all those lives) doesn't own a damn watch! 

Fast forward to yesterday as the movie conglomerate caught themselves in a tizzy. You know, they were re-opening a theater and couldn't wait to do some local marketing. Sure, this was that theater in Aurora, Colo., but there the executives were all in a lather, ready to promote the grand re-opening and needed some shtick for the grandiose event. 

"A-ha!" some nitwit shouted. "I have a great idea." 

And so, the enormously heinous and cruel idea took place — Cinemark decided to send invitations to the family members of all victims of the July 20, 2012 shooting. Yes way! 
The invitation, which welcomed the families to “a special night of remembrance,” has been labeled “disgusting” and a “thinly veiled publicity ploy,” leading the family members to call for a boycott of the Jan. 17 event. Relatives of nine of the 12 people killed in the shooting wrote a letter to the Plano, Texas-based movie company, expressing their anger and disgust with the offer, which came just two days after Christmas. “Thanks for making what is a very difficult holiday season that much more difficult,” the letter reads. “Timing is everything and yours is awful.”
(The entire letter in all its utter turpitude is located here. And it's so worth the read.) 

Personally, I can't think of a greater need for an immediate recourse of action and the purchase of a crisis communications plan than this one. Forget asking what they were thinking; it's blatanly obvious that they were not. The adage says, "The devil is in the details," yes? Well, see if these details don't remind you of the slew-footed one: 
  1. Grand opening ceremonies are for one thing — profit. And just what was Cinemark trying to profit from here?
  2. Sure, a remembrance ceremony was planned to kick off the film screening, but the families were asked to reserve their own tickets. 
  3. The letter claims the theater chain repeatedly refused to meet with family members without lawyers present and didn’t offer condolences to the families.
  4. This story is now viral and Cinemark has yet to comment. Well, as they said, "no immediate comment," which is loosely translated, "Our lawyers are going to write something that will attempt to absolve us from any dunderheadedness." 
No report of a memorial for the victims. No word about a fund for the convalesence of the families. And no report of so much as a visit from Cinemark CEO Tim Warner. All of this is a travesty of morality and a lapse in decency. You stay classy, Cinemark.

As PR professionals, we are taught, trained, and rehearsed to consider the public first and the client a close second. That is not what happened here. Were marketing, PR, and legal not communicating here? Did the CEO not take an active role in this re-opening, considering the "intangibles"? It's uncertain what anyone at the home of 'Front Row Joe' was considering, and candidly, it's too late for any coherent thought. Action is all these families deserve swift and immediate. 

After all, that's what most crisis communications plans would tell you. But what do I know? I'm not employed at some high-flatulent company like Cinemark.

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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