15 PR Lessons from the King of Rock and Roll
by Adele Cehrs
What artist has 2.4 million Facebook fans, 60,000 Twitter followers and 1,500 Google Plus groups?
That’s why I can honestly say everything I need to know about PR I learned from the most famous teen idol dead or alive. I am not talking about Justin Beiber folks – I am talking about the King of Rock and Roll himself – Elvis Aaron Presley!
I am a huge Elvis fan…probably the biggest Elvis fan my age. You may be surprised how much you too can learn from this iconic brand that has been creating fans, advocates and serious revenue for decades.
In the mid-1950s, the post-war Eisenhower era of social conformity in America was at its peak, and musically, the most threatening image appeared when Presley’s good looks, sensuous moves and mesmerizing voice made him an overnight sensation. At last, teenagers had music of their own to swoon over, while their parents continued listening to Frank Sinatra.
Elvis was always a little ahead of the curve. Here’s how you can follow in the footsteps of a pop-culture legend.
Lesson #1 — Make a Grand Entrance
The Elvis experience begins with a grand entrance. Can’t you just hear his theme song, CC Rider, in your head as you read this? A tribute to the King’s brand consistency, his entrance and his opening song remained unchanged for his entire career.
Which makes me think – how do you launch strategies for new products, offerings or content? Is your message consistent? If not, how will prospects remember all of your offerings…Every launch has to be planned, strategized and intentional – just like Elvis.
Lesson #1 — Be an Engaging Story Teller
Think about how many Elvis’ songs you remember, even if you are not a fan the lyrics are STICKY.
Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog. Blue Suede Shoes. Suspicious Minds. Jailhouse Rock. Heartbreak Hotel. Love Me Tender. I can go on, but I don’t want to get any songs stuck in your head.
All of these pop songs repeat the chorus several times and have an interesting bridge.
This trick of repetition also works for PR messages. Research shows that you can remember about 3 to 4 items for about 20 seconds before they disappear from memory – unless you repeat them.
For companies, organizations or individuals too many messages can cloud the waters: Be sure to analyze your messages. To be effective and memorable, you should have no more than 3 to 5 overarching messages about your brand and initiatives.
Lesson #4 — Create Raving Fans
I know you’re thinking, “obviously this girl has been to Graceland.” And you would be right.
As the youngest of three, my father and I had very little in common. Except we were both die-hard Elvis fans. On my 9th birthday, my dad took me and my sister on a road trip from NJ to Graceland in an old clunker of a car…Naturally, we made it to the most visited private home in the world and it is still one of my fondest childhood memories.
As you can see some brands, concepts and ideas are cross-generational. But what made Elvis so timeless? The answer is many of the same things that can make your organizational messages timeless.
Find the commonalities in your customers and create stories that reflect those cross-generational needs and desires through anecdotal surveys, quick polls on hot topics, etc. Use this data to motivate super fans to get more involved.
Lesson #5 — Create Brand Advocates
Elvis had a gang of friends who were referred to as the Memphis Mafia. He knew these friends for years and felt comfortable that they would provide him honest feedback when he needed it, but would also come to his aid if he needed a bodyguard from an unruly group of fans.
Do you have clients who you’ve known for a while that rave about your company or employees? Do you have a spreadsheet of those people that you can easily access that lists these brand advocates in case you need to reach out to them for a PR initiative or if a PR crisis should arise? If not, make that a to-do item tomorrow.
Lesson #6 — Don’t Be Afraid of a “Little Controversy”
Elvis’ hips were banned from Ed Sullivan show due to censorship. This created buzz and sensationalism for Elvis, which helped catapult him to stardom.
To make controversy work for you, you must outsmart competitors and react quickly. By understanding your competitors or detractors and develop a corresponding opposition strategy to craft creative and unique PR and marketing initiatives with an “O” strategy.
Developing an “O” (opposition) strategy is more than just competitive research. It’s about understanding key trends, values, and conversations within your industry, and reacting quickly and strategically when they can benefit your organization.
What industry trends can you take a position on? Find at least one and pre-write messages should an opportunity arise to share that position with the media.
Lesson #7 – Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: Do What Works
Elvis made hundreds of movies, which basically had the same plot. Hard-working mechanic, waiter, race car driver – uses his music to overcome adversity – and Elvis always got the girl.
This movie formula was enormously successful – and while many will argue his movies aren’t that great – they are cult classics b/c viewers’ knew what to expect from them and they kept coming back for more.
What events or initiatives get rave reviews? Take note, and tweak them slightly to make them timely, but don’t throw out the good options to try a shiny new communications platform b/c everybody is doing it. Do what works.
Lesson #8 – Be Platform-Flexible to Remain Relevant
Elvis’ brand right now is adapting to meet the needs of new technologies. As a brand, Elvis’ PR and marketing team could rest of their laurels and say their main target audience is baby boomers who don’t necessarily use social media, but the brand would die out if they just concentrated on their biggest audience.
His brand has a huge following online an off and an estimated 75,000 people went to Graceland to pay tribute to the 35th anniversary of his death.
And, his PR campaign still breeds new fans b/c they are constantly trying new communications platforms to attract new fans.
That’s why you should have multiple audiences you are catering to with through different platforms. Now, I am not suggesting you communicate on all of these platforms, but the ones that are most relevant to your first, second and third-tier clients or prospects.
Lesson #10 — You Don’t Have to Appeal To Everyone
For instance, Elvis loved fried banana sandwichs. This type of food does not appeal to everyone and neither will ALL of your PR messages or initiatives.
Altering a message or a position too quickly to appease a small opposition audience doesn’t work. It creates brand confusion, is disingenuous and breeds rumors. Stay consistent and clear.
If an organization’s position does change, and this is inevitable given the demand for transparency, acknowledge it and articulate the reason for the change.
Lesson #11 — Celebrate Key Brand Milestones
Elvis’ PR and brand team use key anniversaries to gather the King’s Fans. His birthday. The day he died (35th Anniversary Celebration is this year August 16, 2012). Anniversaries of hit songs – you name it they use it as a reason to get people together and reinforce their love for this rock icon.
What can you celebrate to get engagement? Get creative.
Lesson #12 — Embrace Impersonators
Copying your brand is the sincerest form of flattery – embrace it. Elvis’ brand does.
The 2012 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest is where Elvis impersonators compete for $20,000 in prizes and most likely a Vegas gig.
How does this apply to organizations? Consider partnering with similar-minded organizations with the same target market as your organization. Don’t look at them as competitors – look at how they complement or build on your PR tactics and create a program that can pool your resources for bigger brand impact.
Lesson #13 – Practice Vigilant Reputation Management
Elvis died an untimely death, which many people blame on the abuse of prescription drugs. His fans just refused to believe this and instead made up the idea that Elvis faked his own death. Fans are still reporting sightings of Elvis. That’s staying power.
Do you have a brand that can withstand a PR crisis? Have you properly prepared for a crisis? We, at Epic PR Group, have prepared a crisis assessment called the PR Heat Index and you can take the quiz to see how ready you are to handle a crisis in your organization.
Lesson #14 — You Can Make a Comeback
Elvis always gave generously to his fans. What have you done for your biggest advocates lately? Elvis’ supreme generosity is legendary and one of the reasons that so many fans love to retell those stories over and over again to others who long to make a connection.
Even if you’ve had a PR disaster, like BP, Nationwide or Susan G. Komen, the power of PR is the ability to capitalize on the good will you built from being generous when you didn’t need anything in return.
Be generous in praise, opportunity and recognition and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how that good will; will be returned to you in some form or another.
Lesson #15 — Make an Exit
Every performance and every campaign is a chance to learn something – good or bad. Be sure to go over what went right and also what went wrong in after-action reports. Discuss how to avoid or use these wins moving forward with your communications team.
Elvis knew what would get attention – and he did it so successfully that he is one of the most well-recognized artists of the last century. Elvis knew exactly what his fans wanted and catered to it. As a PR professional you need to do the same thing — find what your members need and provide it to them.
Elvis has left the building.
Thank you, thank you very much!