House Red Fan: How a solid communications plan could prevent so many Game of Thrones disasters

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for all seasons of Game of Thrones.

Good morrow and seven blessings to you, readers. If you’re anything like us, you love Game of Thrones. You love to talk about it, you love to read about it and you love to kick back with a flagon of Dornish red to watch it. You even love to watch other people watch it. Some of you even love to watch George R.R. Martin watch other people watch it.

I suppose I should start by saying I’m one of those pretentious book readers, so apologies if there are a few references in this post that might not have been fully examined in the show. It all blends together sometimes.

Let’s dive in.

Valar Morghulis

According to The Washington Post’s interactive guide, there were 704 deaths on Game of Thrones through the first five seasons, which is validated in Slate’s Game of Thrones Graveyard, where you can put virtual flowers on your favorite dead character’s grave.

If I had to guess, I’d say the Game of Thrones character retention rate is about on par with that of startup companies in the U.S.; according to Gallup, 50 percent of new U.S. companies fail in their first five years. Some of those businesses could have been saved had they implemented a communications plan at the right time or followed a few practical communications tips. Not all, but some.

Similarly, many of your favorite characters could’ve been saved and many disasters avoided if only some basic public relations and business principles were observed. Here are just a few:

1. Know your competitors and beware the activist investor. This one sounds self-explanatory, but come on, Ned! In Season One, Ned suspected Jon Arryn, executive vice president of Westeros, was poisoned because he knew too many company secrets. Then the CEO—Robert Baratheon—gets axed (“boared?”) just a couple months later, and it becomes clear the whole board of directors is in cahoots with the CEO’s wife and her family. That sets the stage for a Lannister Holdings LLC takeover of the Iron Throne that Ned could have prevented had he not been divulging his business continuity plan with his direct competitors.

2. Strategic partnerships only work when both organizations complement or share each other’s bottom-lines. Poor, gullible, getting-manipulated-from-every-possible-angle King Tommen of House is a young and impressionable C-suite executive—unsure of his target audiences and stakeholders—and is definitely not making the Forbes “40 Under 40” list. He’s trying to implement grassroots messaging to regain support through the Faith Militant with his “The crown and the faith are the twin pillars upon which the world rests” speech. Good luck. The Faith Militant’s core philosophy and values rest on the downfall of the great organizations scattered throughout Westeros.

3. Make sure you have an objective and practical advisor. I read a fantastic article in The New York Times following Season Six, Episode Four called “Tyrion, Daenerys and the Art of the Deal.” In it, TV critic James Poniewozik points out the delicate dichotomy of Dany’s and Tyrion’s respective governing philosophies. Dany is your big-game player. When you need a fourth-quarter touchdown on 4th and 1 in the Super Bowl, you go to Dany. She’ll set the field on fire and walk into the endzone with a dragon egg outstretched over the goalline, stiff-arming a Dothraki linebacker. But she doesn’t have the realpolitik principles needed to govern a city of recently freed slaves. Tyrion does, but as Poniewozik writes, “Tyrion’s worldview is also insufficient by itself. He’s able to cut a deal—which may or may not work in the end—only because Dany had upended the slave economy in the first place. Would Tyrion ever have done that on his own?” No, probably not. Tyrion is an outsider, able to view the politics and troubles in Meereen through a relatively objective lens, while Dany is perhaps myopic in her vision for Slaver’s Bay. While ultimately it is Dany’s vision, it’s Tyrion and Varys who are slowly but surely taking the practical and strategic—if sometimes unpopular—steps to reach that vision.

4. Never underestimate the power of the disruptor. We see the words “disruptor” or “disruptive force” all the time across industries, perhaps none more so than the financial services sector. I’m constantly reading about how financial technology companies are disrupting the traditional banking system through new products in payments, P2P lending and more. Nobody embodies those forces in Westeros more than Jon Snow. After being elected the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Lord Snow promptly ignores the 10,000-year tradition of wildling-killing, travels to Hardhome, parlays with a few thousand stragglers and a giant (Wun-Wun!)—before the White Walkers go all Walking Dead on the living—and brings them south of The Wall to the utter fury of his subordinates. Jon knows the acquisition and merger is the utilitarian and moral thing to do, and believes that, in time, wildlings and crows might be able to coexist. It’s that belief—combined with a lack of foresight of the establishment’s response—that gets him killed (see Bullet Point No. 1) only to return with a shorter haircut, an even more brooding disposition (impossibly) and the freedom to abandon his oath to the Night’s Watch to campaign through the North for a round of angel funding for his startup army.

While there are a hundred more lessons to be learned from the tragedies of Game of Thrones, take these especially to heart. The night is dark and full of terrors, but more often than not, a good communications plan can bring light to a darkened world.

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