Written by: Mary Larsen
CONTROVERSY! Many Outlander fans have taken time out of their day to find ways to fault the PR campaigns you’ve been employing as of late. In fact, my own husband has written an open and honest letter to you about that very subject. If you have yet to read it, please click here to take a gander.
And while there are some extremely valid criticisms of your work that are certainly worthy of debate, my intent in this letter is to actually lend some support. People have their opinions, of course, and they are totally entitled to them. Yes, even the haters. But, here’s my opinion: I love you and I think you’re doing the best that you can. Let me explain why:
PR is hard. Very hard.
You give one tidbit and people want ten more.
Honestly – it’s hard to blame them. Outlander absolutely rocks. So, let me preface all of this by saying the difficulty you have been experiencing with your fans recently is not a reflection of you – necessarily. It’s more a manifestation of how much they love your product.
While I do empathize with the huge swath of fans who want to consume more of your content – trust me, I want to see more sneak peaks, pictures, and videos just as much as anyone else in the Outlander community – I’ve also found some of the criticism about you a little unreasonable.
I’d like to address the most widely promoted and passionately argued criticisms of your campaign here:
“STARZ HASN’T GIVEN US ANYTHING WORTH OUR TIME!”
Many people have argued that you have shown too little, or revealed aspects of season 2 that are either irrelevant or barely worth the viewer’s time. Whether it be pictures of food, dinner settings, or set pieces that have been offered as insight into production – people have expected more from you.
They want Claire.
They want Jaime.
The want Bree and Roger.
And they want it now.
It IS fair to say that you haven’t given your consumers a lot of the major characters and plot beats they have been desperately looking forward to since season 1 finished it’s run.
But, if I said to you that a favorite show of mine was almost towards the end of production of their second season, and they themed a lot of teaser photos along the lines of the current holiday of Thanksgiving, released a teaser trailer 4 months from it’s potential release date, made their stars available for social media gatherings, and offered up a piece of something interesting about the show’s production on a near daily basis for 30 days straight, that would sound pretty good, right?
Well, it should. Because that’s exactly what you did.
“STARZ HAS NO IDEA HOW TO RUN A PR CAMPAIGN!”
With #PeekAtParis and #OutlanderOfferings – did you give us everything we wanted and on a consistent basis as you promised? Not entirely. But the campaigns did what they were meant to do: tease.
You showed us sets, costumes, food, behind the scenes action, and even tied in the holiday of Thanksgiving/Christmas to your posts on social media. You built up tension, fervor, and excitement for your product all while giving everyone small insights into the world you’re building. You continued this trend until we could no longer take the tease and then dropped the first teaser trailer on us.
It was a near perfect job of exposing us to the world of Outlander season 2. Truly.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve italicized “world” twice. That is by design.
What you understand, and what I think a lot of us fans have yet to entirely grasp, is this:
An early marketing campaign’s goal is to invite us into the world you’re creating. In other words, the PR scheme leading up to the next season is to literally TEASE us as an audience and allude to what you are doing – not hit us square in the face and SPOIL everything you’re trying to accomplish.
But, then again – what’s the point of showing a nondescript still of Jamie out of context? It doesn’t serve the story. It doesn’t tease. It just is. Seeing that still would have no greater impact other than the fleeting impulse of “oh my god, look at Jamie – he’s so hot.” So why waste that bullet in the early stages? Simply stated – you shouldn’t. (More on this in a bit)
Like we’ve established, the goal is to build the world for the audience first.
Effective world building, and the eventual journey IN that world with our characters, can only be effective if we have a sense of how large, or conversely, how intimate, that world can be. The world is the context in which we watch our beloved characters interact and it is absolutely vital to stories, and television shows in particular. (See: Bloodline and True Detective season 1 – both of which would not have been anywhere near as compelling without the world and settings they were in.)
Without said context – we can’t attach our love and adoration to the character and/or their arch for the upcoming season. Goodwill from the books, or seasons gone by, will only last so long. Season 2 must, thereby, carry its own weight and context to build on the arc of the characters.
How better to understand that context than to show us everything that SURROUNDS them first?
It’s PR 101.
“STARZ HAS SHOWN NOTHING IN COMPARISON TO OTHER NETWORKS!”
In his letter to you, my husband frequently referenced your failings through the lens of HBO and their PR machine’s resounding successes. And while his case wasn’t completely wrong, I do want to point out one thing he mentioned: the acute genius behind the marketing of The Leftovers.
Essentially, he claimed that HBO engaged in a near perfect PR campaign for The Leftovers, which helped prop up a near perfect season of television.
So in the spirit of this PR debate, let me show you the first teaser that dropped for The Leftovers season 2:
More importantly, do you know how many pictures from set, production, or ANYTHING from the The Leftovers came out before this “teaser?”
Your teaser picks up where we left off in season 1 – literally, from that very moment. We get a clear sense of themes, characters, where the story is headed, the stakes of the predicament in which our characters find themselves, and a small hook at the end to remind us all that we will be dealing with the possibility of changing the course of history.
HBO may be choc-full of marketing geniuses, but your first teaser was far more descriptive and offered more juicy tidbits about specifics of our favorite program.
Will history be changed?
Will Claire succeed?
Why is Jamie dueling Murtaugh?
Are those battle scenes from Culloden?
Will Claire have that baby?
And for those who paid close attention – we’d already seen the costumes, set pieces, and details of the famous dinner party, and more, that were highlighted in the trailer because of the teases and world building you had done before the trailer drop.
In the end, the context of the story could be appreciated and used to supplement the splendor of the trailer.
“BUT WHY CAN’T WE AT LEAST SEE PICTURES OF OUR JAMIE AND CLAIRE?!?”
Aha! Now we’re back to our original ctiticism – why have you not shared pictures of the main characters on set or in costume?! That’s easy enough, right? Why not share those pictures before the trailer? We could have at least had those…
Like I said, I get it. I want to see Jaime and Claire just as much as anyone – and as soon as possible too. But I am also confident that our main characters don’t deserve to be spoiled in photos. And I think you agree with me.
“WHERE’S BREE AND ROGER?!?”
Sure, the trailer dropped and it made everyone a little happier. But where the heck is Bree and Roger? Of course, Roger has been cast but we STILL don’t know who Bree is. Why? We deserve to know who they are, right? Well, not so fast.
Do book readers want to know who is cast for Bree and Roger? Do they expect them to have large roles in season 2? OF COURSE!
But show watchers have no idea who they are. They have no idea what’s to come.
And while we, the book readers, already know the answers to these questions – we ALL have to remember that the show is a DIFFERENT entity from the book. As such, it should be treated differently because it’s laid out to highlight the mystery of what’s to come. Why?
Not everyone has read the book. These reveals have to benefit the ENTIRE audience.
Showrunner Ron Moore knows this and even copped to it when he said on our podcast, “I always have to sort of put on and look at the show through the eyes of someone who has never read the books at all. And they’re just accepting the story that you tell it to them.” So, yes, the teasers are for the book readers, but they and the show, are really focused on those who have not read the books.
Remember, just because we book readers know who the many characters in season 2 are, doesn’t mean that Ron Moore wants EVERYONE to know who they are, what part they will play in the show, or how much of a part they will play in the show.
Did we all think that Frank would be featured as much as he was in season 1? Heck no. But, by and large, the addition of Frank’s story helped lend perspective for readers AND non readers on Claire’s dilemma in her television world.
Bree and Roger’s stories may be different in the show. Maybe they’e reduced. Maybe Bree is going to be saved for a future season? We simply don’t know. (More on this later.)
We may have expectations and foreknowledge about Diana’s books, but like it or not, this is Ron Moore’s story to tell on television. You can only do what you AND Ron agree to show.
“WHY IS STARZ TAKING SO LONG TO SHOW US STUFF?!?”
While they may have been done in accordance to how PR should be handled in terms of story, there’s no denying the fact that the teases took forever, and there’s no denying the frustration that comes along with that fact.
Even I have fallen victim to that frustration. I mean, god, is it really that hard to give us a release date for season 2? No! We should have it! I want to look forward to something more than just “Spring of 2016.”
But, when I take a look at it from afar, and with an unbiased fangirl opinion, I don’t think giving us a premiere date is that easy either.
We viewers have to know that production on a show of this caliber is extremely long, detailed, and involved. You, and Ron Moore, can only produce what you have. You can’t show teasers, and photos that everyone wants to see, if you haven’t shot footage that is worthy of being a part of the teaser yet.
That said, how can you nail down a date or a month if you don’t know exactly what you have yet? You have to build in time for weather delays, holidays breaks, or even injuries on set. All of these built-in safety valves add in time to an already complex shooting schedule. In light of this, you can’t market a date for release if you don’t have the footage for that release in front of you.
This is yet another case against showing/announcing Bree and Roger on a quicker timeline. Granted, Roger has since been released – but maybe they just hadn’t gotten to that part of filming yet. What if Bree hasn’t been announced because she doesn’t exist yet? Again, you can’t announce what they haven’t shot.
“SO WHY IS STARZ TAKING SO LONG TO RELEASE SEASON 2?”
Which leads me to the next point: taking forever to produce season 2. In the end, we will have waited nearly a year between the season 1b finale and season 2 premiere. But like I said, the process of producing a show of this caliber is gargantuan.
The funny thing is – it’s not even really your fault that the wait has to be so long. This is more of a production fault than a distribution problem.
Writing teams have to be hired, directors and crew hired, then it has to be adapted from source material, written, edited, re written, actors have to be cast, locations scouted, costumes created, permitting approved to shoot in cities, sets built, props built/ purchased, then it has to be shot, sound mixed, color treated, edited, scored by Bear McCreary, VFX have to be created, run through more post production, approved by the writers, the directors, producing partners, Ron, Maril Davis, SONY, and then it has to run through you.
Then YOU have to wait for the right time to release the info, send press releases, cut the trailer, drop the teaser trailer at the exact correct moment to maximize exposure, schedule the premiere, show the premiere, and distribute the premiere to the public. I’m sure there are forty billion things I don’t mention in the process here, but I think you get the eventual point:
It’s a long freaking process.
It’s understandable that we have to wait a year for a prestige cable show like this to be released. And guess what – Outlander is not in the minority when it comes to waiting this long. The Walking Dead, The Leftovers, Better Call Saul, Game Of Thrones, Mad Men, all took the same amount of time if not LONGER in between seasons. Heck, the creators of Sherlock and Fargo are making their viewers wait between two and even three years between seasons.
“WHY CAN’T STARZ BE MORE LIKE HBO?!?”
Ah yes – here it is – the elephant in the room.
The ugly truth.
You’re not HBO and Outlander is not Game Of Thrones.
And before everyone who reads that last line runs me up a tree – I don’t mean that Outlander is not a good show. In fact, I find it just as entertaining as Game Of Thrones.
But, you, STARZ, don’t have as many viewers, which means less subscriptions. AKA – you simply don’t make as much money as HBO.
You don’t have the resources to embark on these elaborate viral campaigns, to hold lavish viewing parties, or to dedicate an entire team of people to online marketing that HBO does.
A lot of people don’t see your product mainly because you just don’t have anywhere near the reach of major studios, networks, or, yes, even HBO.
Despite your 21 years of existence, you’re still a young network, who is still very much learning who you are, what you are capable of, and what it means promote your own content.
Sure, it’s easy to say “well, spend more money!” And it might even be possible to throw money at the problem by hiring more people, and simply changing the budget for Outlander.
“OUTLANDER IS YOUR BEST SHOW! IT NEEDS ALL YOUR ATTENTION!”
I can hear the cries now, “make your flagship show everything you have! Make us, your loyal viewers, happy!” In theory? LOVE this idea. In practice? Impossible.
You’re not just one show. You’re a NETWORK.
And here’s another ugly truth: Not everyone cares about Outlander the way your rabid fans do.
Despite what I would like to think, I’ve learned that Outlander is NOT a heavyweight in the television industry. In fact, it’s far from it. The ratings clearly indicate that it’s a pretty niche show for an even more niche audience.
Fun fact: Outlander only averages just over 1 million viewers.
The Leftovers (a show many considered to be a bubble show because of it’s low ratings) averaged just short of a million viewers.
Game of Thrones averages 8 million.
How about The Walking Dead? 14 million.
Another fun fact, Outlander currently isn’t even the highest rated show on your own network!
That distinction falls upon “Power,” which averages about 2 million viewers.
And while ratings aren’t everything, especially when you have the quality team of Ron Moore and his production/writing staff at the helm of your flagship show, the ratings are a good barometer to prove that you can’t place all of your eggs in the Outlander basket.
As a network, you are obligated to maintain ALL of your properties to the best of your ability, and to develop more properties, so as to enhance the prestige of your network. This is the only way you have any chance of attracting better original content, quality actors, and most importantly, elite show runners like Ron Moore.
But the final ugly truth is that as of this moment, you are limited. You are physically limited, fiscally limited, creatively limited, and limited in your market share. This is neither bad nor good. Just a reckoning of facts.
But I think you have done a pretty exceptional job considering your market share, your fiscal constraints, the detailed production schedule, and the complicated nature of your content.
I’d like to close this letter with one final thought –
I’m so happy that you decided to adapt Outlander. Yes, I know us fans are really into your show and we will consume it at all costs. But, the only reason why we are able to consume it is because you adapted it, and you did a great job at it.
There are people in STARZ, as we learned from Maril Davis, who read the books, LOVED THEM, and insisted that Ron adapt them as closely as possible to the source material. I think it’s safe to say that you love Outlander just as much as we do.
Fans should be aware of this and should know how much you care for this show.
You given us all a great gift in taking the reigns to distribute this show and I for one am grateful to not only podcast, blog, and interact with other fans of this show – but I am happy to see the characters I love on screen. People love your product so much that they are willing to spend the money and shout from the rooftops about Outlander’s praises to anyone who will listen.
It’s a huge advantage. Keep utilizing that love.
You see – (and I speak to any fan who is reading this open letter) it’s our job to support STARZ. We all have these blogs, podcasts, ETSY shops, Cafe Press stores, etc., all for the sole purpose of celebrating our love. But, it’s not (nor should it be) all on STARZ to promote the show.
Would it be easy to say that it’s just up to STARZ? Sure. But think of this – yes, there are only a million of us according to the ratings. Yes, the number (in context) seems small. But take 1 million people and put them all in a room to get perspective- you would be shocked at how many people that is! It would be overwhelming. It’s an ARMY. Hell, that’s pretty much the population of half the states in the United States.
Could you imagine if we all came together to help our show instead of criticizing STARZ?! Could you imagine what would happen if we stopped looking at STARZ as though they messed up this season and said, “this is OUR show.” What would happen if we all took responsibility to share one post from Outlander social media? Or, let someone borrow the DVD you just bought. Or, give an Outlander themed gift to a friend. How quickly would that 1 million shoot up to 2? How quickly would Outlander become the highest rated show on STARZ?
It benefits us to work WITH STARZ instead of being critical.
If I were you, STARZ, I would address this fact straight up.
Acknowledge your fan’s adoration directly. No, you don’t have to break the fourth wall like Arrested Development did and openly beg for new fans to join the show in an actual episode (which was hilarious btw).
But, you should speak to your fans and ask them to help promote Outlander in some form of media. Be honest about what you need and why you need it. People would flock to this kind of idea! Why? It would give fans a sense of ownership over the show. A sense of purpose. Ask Ron, or Maril, or ::gasp:: Sam or Cait, to come out and talk about what more we could do to help the cause.
We all love Outlander and, in my opinion, it’s up to us to come together and help you, as opposed to pointing fingers at you for how crappy of a job you may or may not have done.
You just have to start that process.
|Do you want more Outlander chat? Get your fix by listening to The Outlander Cast Podcast with detailed show discussion and amazing interviews with cast, crew, writers and directors of Outlander on Starz|