PAUL HOLMES: The same PR focus that drew record viewers to 'Passion' must help advocate post-film harmony

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ opened this weekend to the kind of box office most blockbusters can only dream of. The movie hauled in $117.5 million during its first five days, hitting number one at the box office. It had the seventh most successful three-day opening ever, and the best for a movie in which the characters speak exclusively in Latin and Aramaic, with English subtitles.

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ opened this weekend to the kind of box office most blockbusters can only dream of. The movie hauled in $117.5 million during its first five days, hitting number one at the box office. It had the seventh most successful three-day opening ever, and the best for a movie in which the characters speak exclusively in Latin and Aramaic, with English subtitles.

I always talk about the importance of measuring PR campaigns in terms of their real bottom-line results. It's hard to argue with those results in this instance. Gibson's representatives at Rogers & Cowan (a subsidiary of Interpublic and sister company to Weber Shandwick) and the distributors of the film did a masterful job of reaching out to the film's core constituency - Catholics and evangelical Christians - through private screenings, generating support for the movie at the grassroots level to create incredible word-of-mouth; and using the media. So if they enter their campaign for an award where the main criterion for success is business results, are they likely to take home a trophy? Not a prayer, if I have a vote. Be- cause at the end of the day, we are all responsible for the consequences of our actions, and it's difficult to imagine this film's success having anything but unpleasant consequences. Gibson has argued that his version of the crucifixion is faithful to the Biblical story. However, like any reader of the New Testament, he is forced to decide what version of the facts he believes, and in almost every instance he chooses the version that places the Jews in the worst possible light. He includes a scene, found only in John, in which Jesus tells Pilate, "He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin" (a line interpreted through history as a reference to the Jews). He also includes a scene found only in Matthew, in which the Jews say, "Jesus' blood be on us and on our children." In this country, it's hard to imagine that the unpleasant consequences could go any further than a roadside sign posted by the Lovingway (I kid you not) United Pentecostal Church in Denver, which read: "Jews Killed the Lord Jesus." But in countries where anti-Semitism is already a resurgent phenomenon and where the gospels are often viewed as a contemporaneous, historical account of actual events, it's not a stretch to imagine the movie provoking actions rather than mere words. Somebody - I'm not saying it should be the people at Interpublic, Weber Shandwick, or Rogers & Cowan - should start to think about ways to use the power of PR to promote tolerance in those markets.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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