Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

North Korea as PR Super-Agent

If you wanted to promote the movie The Interview, you couldn’t have come up with a better script than having North Korea go nuts over its release.

THE-INTERVIEW-TRAILER-facebookHollywood press agents, known for extravagant gambits to hype movies and their stars, would have gasped at the audacity of a secretive foreign leader pledging holy war if a movie like The Interview saw the light of day.

That’s what makes you wonder whether North Korea is preparing to become a world leader in public relations. If it can turn a silly satire into a cause celebre, think what it could do with serious material.

Threatening to blow up movie theaters that dared to air The Interview may seem over the top, but it was a coup that succeeded. Theater owners caved and Sony Pictures canceled release of the film for lack of any place to show it. After a knuckle rapping by President Obama on the importance of the First Amendment and the unimportance of tin man dictators, The Interview suddenly started to stream out in all kinds of channels.

Viewers didn’t have to risk a suicide bombing to watch The Interview at home on their iPads. People bought tickets to the select movie houses showing the film as an act of patriotism.

This is one of the most remarkable PR achievements of all time. Seth Rogen and James Franco, the two journalists conscripted to assassinate North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, have been interviewed constantly since the North Korean PR blitz started. The movie house blackout, the defense of free speech and the box office take have been topics of incessant media coverage. The free publicity for The Interview may be worth more than the cost of production for the movie itself.

Kim Jong UnWe clearly underrate the mental acumen in Pyongyang. Without North Korea’s bombastic PR, The Interview likely would have opened and closed at theaters without almost anyone noticing. The people who would have paid money to go probably wouldn’t have known North Korea is a real country and Kim Jong Un is a basketball buddy of Dennis Rodman.

The only hole in the North Korean publicity campaign is that it won’t be able to capitalize on its newfound awareness by Americans who now will see The Interview. North Korea doesn’t export anything that Americans want. And tourism there is sketchy because they arrest anyone who might happen to carry a Bible or a souvenir picture of Rogen and Franco.

The back story for the PR plan is interesting, too. There is a good chance, at least if you believe the CIA, that North Korea put a couple of nerds up to hacking into Sony Pictures computer network, stealing a bunch of embarrassing emails and some film footage of unreleased productions. North Korea vehemently denies any role in the hacking and at one point accused the United States of staging the hacking and framing North Korea. This is an example of the old PR maxim of a good offense as a great defense.

After Obama promised a “proportional response” and Senator John McCain called the cyberattack an “act of war,” North Korea’s internet inexplicably went down for nine hours. North Korean officials predictably blamed Obama for ordering the retaliatory online attack. They omitted any mention of McCain, perhaps not wanting to arouse the mad bomber any more than he already was. Some people just don’t get PR.

Naturally, there was a Hollywood ending to the contretemps. It turns out nobody who is anybody in North Korea uses its internet anyway. Free speech triumphed, North Korea got to blow off steam, Sony Pictures got to air out its email laundry and no stunt doubles were injured.





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