by Keith Diggle
PRODUCT PUBLICITY is a term used to describe the combination of two activities: PRODUCT ADVERTISING AND PRODUCT PUBLIC RELATIONS (often referred to as ‘PR’). The role of this combination is to focus attention upon the Product in such a way that the Available Audience is brought to the point where it wants to buy the Product. Product Publicity also provides very similar input to the Educational PR function so that it is equipped with information that will assist it in its role of ‘Door Opener’ for the Unavailable Audience.
At the heart of Product Publicity is the realisation that straightforward Advertising, largely using the media of print and website with occasional forays into TV and Radio, is extremely limited in what it can convey and in its power to persuade. In advertising it is generally held that only one fundamental view of the Product can be conveyed via any medium or campaign. This is the notion of the ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ of which you may have heard. In the commercial world we see examples of this all the time. Examine TV or magazine advertising and see how simple the ‘message’ is. It may be subtle but it is almost always simple. Advertising cannot hope to grab our attention for longer than a few seconds and so the creators of commercial campaigns have to find something to say that it both appealing (and unique in a competitive situation) and communicable via the media available.
Transfer this idea to the arts and see how virtually impotent we are when trying to persuade people to buy tickets to see people they have never heard of performing things they have never heard of – a fairly common situation for many of us.
The importance of the Available/Unavailable Audience idea becomes clearer now. An Available Audience is made up of people who are favourably inclined towards the artform and thus already know something about it and those who create and perform it. Product Advertising has a far better chance of working with these people because they are familiar with the ideas, language, style, images and so on, of the genre. Product Advertising doesn’t have to waste its time in explanation, it can just get on with its job of persuading people that this particular event or programme is going to be good to experience.
But having said that, more information is still needed. Just because a person likes opera it doesn’t mean that the sight of one poster or a brief TV commercial is going to make them run to the nearest box office. And, within any group of people favourably inclined towards a genre there will be specific antipathies towards artists, works, schools, influences, directors and so on. Most important, within any group, there will be huge gaps in people’s knowledge. There will be art experiences and artists who are not known to members of the Available Audience.
Within an Available Audience – say, a classical music loving audience – there is always a need for more information than one can put on a poster or in a brochure. I, for years a lover of the music of Stostokovich, always used to resist a piece of music of his called ‘The Gadfly’. When I looked at CDs or tapes their covers and the information they offered me (a kind of advertising when you think about it) I was not persuaded to buy. Why? I cannot say. Then one day I heard it on the radio when I was driving in my car and I changed my mind. The broadcast had given me precisely the kind of information I needed. My opinion was changed. A door had been opened for me. Of course, I bought the recording.
So, you see, the notion of an Available/Unavailable audiences is something of an over-simplification. Available Audiences are not automatically your audiences just for the taking; even the most devoted followers will have their quirks and their blind spots. This is why we need the combination of Product Advertising and Product PR.
Product Advertising to speak to the Available Audience with the aim of projecting the art experience as something that these people will want. An assessment of what that might be has to be made. Do we convey a cool, intellectual, message about a new play by a known playwright? Do we present it as something sensational? Do we blast out a message in colours that are the visual equivalent of heavy metal at full volume on a radio?
Make no mistake about it – this process calls for creativity of a high level from people who know the genre, know the particular art experience and KNOW THEIR AUDIENCE!
Every single aspect of the piece of paper, website page or whatever medium is being used, must combine within it the projection of what is for sale, where it can be experienced, how much it will cost to experience it, the reasons why the commitment to purchase should be made immediately, the advantages of purchasing more than one ticket and how the purchase may be made, effortlessly. The object is TO ACHIEVE A SALE!
WE ALSO NEED
Product PR that uses the media of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV to ‘flesh out’ the image projected by the advertising and thus helps provide an atmosphere within which Product Advertising can flourish. We all experience the effects of Product PR every day. A new film is about to open. Suddenly the media are full of interviews with the star performers. Having a star means people will read interviews and stories about whatever film the star is appearing in. (Click on to the KEITH DIGGLE ARTICLES and go to GOOD PR? LOOK TO THE MOVIE INDUSTRY).
Look to see what you have in this event that is soon to happen that will appeal to the media. Select from this that which will support the Product Advertising. Sometimes the media will be interested in matters that will not help you. What you want media journalists to do is to add flesh to the bones of your Product Advertising, not to convey information that would be to its detriment. The conviction for possession of drugs makes good copy but does not help you persuade people to buy tickets for this particular actor – not usually, anyway.
Art forms that usually run for some time are easier to handle – and far easier if the performances are good. Media critics visit a show and then write about it while tickets are still on sale and so, if they like the show, they provide much of the PR you need. It is much harder to generate interest if only one performance is scheduled; then, one is almost completely reliant on the reputations and fame of those involved.
This is clearly an uncertain business. In my first book on arts marketing I said ‘In Advertising you control the media and in PR the media control you’ and this is still true today. In today’s celebrity culture a 15 year old semi-literate screecher will usually outrank a world famous conductor in most media. The answer is frequently for the organisation to produce its own ‘house journal’, its own publication which, whether it is large or small, will enable you to say what you want to say about the events that you are marketing. It is the only way that you will control the medium.
Again, the activity calls for creativity – and flair. Good PR people are hard to find. Try to develop the skills within your organisation and involve as many people as possible – preferably the most senior ones, who may have contacts that you can exploit. PR people build up relationships with media writers, making sure that they get to interview and photograph the famous so that they will be prepared to consider doing the same when the artists are less than famous. In the PR business there is a lot of ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’.
PR is one area where I can say, with a high degree of confidence, that you should go out and buy a book on the practice of Public Relations and it will probably help you a lot. There are many differences between what we do in our world of the arts and what happens in the commercial sector but in PR there are hardly any. We, all of us, devote much effort persuading people to write about and make programmes about and photograph the artists and the events that we have to market.