Avril Lavigne Meet & Greets Photos – A look beyond the entertainment

"I have to fight to keep my image really me. Today, I rejected some gorgeous publicity shots because they just didn't look like me." -Avril Lavigne

Much of who I am and what I’m doing today I owe to Avril Lavigne. I don’t care for her new music and I haven’t considered myself her fan for years but loving her music over 10 years ago introduced me to her guitarist Evan Taubenfeld’s music and being a member of his fan community the Black List Club got me started in music community management. Needless to say it has been interesting to follow the media attention Avril’s recent meet and greet photos have gotten.

Does it suck to be an Avril fan?

The news stories may provide a fair amount of entertainment and a fair warning about what to expect, but that’s not the whole story. Noisey’s staff introduced the photos in a blog post headlined ‘It sucks to be an Avril Lavigne fan‘, yet the post didn’t ACTUALLY give a fan point of view.

I wanted to know how actual Avril fans reacted, before coming to any conclusions of what to think about the photos. And interestingly, I found quite a few comments saying that the photos weren’t actually as awkward as they expected and that they were “not as bad” as some photos from Asian meet and greets.

By the time I’m writing this the 6 pages long discussion thread had analysis about the situation, personal experiences, examples of others treating fans worse than Avril and some disappointed comments. But no big feelings to any direction, even though it could have been expected.

On Twitter on the other hand I found Augusto’s tweet, almost panicking that his fan picture had brought Avril so much criticism:

With a quick search I also found two other fans from similar photo shoots, although much closer to Avril (still not exactly relaxed photos). Their comments are excited rather than disappointed:

Meet and Greets are emotionally (and socially) challenging

I don’t know what’s the deal with the no touching rule. There could be a lot of reasons for it. But the bottom line is that getting VIP Meet&Greets right is not as simple as it might seem.

Meeting your favorite singer – one you’ve been dreaming of meeting for years – can be a huge deal. And something so intense can easily get awkward. Dreaming of something doesn’t always prepare you to the actual moment and throw in foreign languages and natural shyness.

From the artist’s point of view the situation isn’t necessarily any easier. Being a super star and singing to large audiences is very different from a small meet and greet. And being used to having fans in the audience does not necessarily mean you are used to meeting them one-on-one. You never know who might be coming to the event or how they will react. Some are more natural in that kind of situations, for others it takes a lot of effort and may still feel awkward.

Generally 2 x Awkward only makes not awkward if you can laugh at yourself and so find a connection in the awkwardness. But meeting your fans just as well as meeting your idol can be quite a big deal and it’s not easy to let go.

What can we learn from Avril?

Avril Lavigne Press photo, used with a general permission (Epic Publicity) for editorial useThe clichéd saying goes “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. But in all honesty, this certainly does not feel to be helping Avril’s image. Even if at least some of her fans can understand the situation, it does not look good. Especially the “this is what they got for $400″ point of view really puts Avril Lavigne meet and greet tickets to bad light. Not giving customers an experience worth their money is bad business!

Avril Lavigne’s own twitter account had a couple of sets of meet and greet photos, including some of the ridiculed pictures. It seems the idea behind posting the photos were to connect with fans and showcase the special moments. At least that’s what my idea would have been had I been planning Avril’s twitter content.

Were the audience just super fans, it probably would have worked. But official account social media audience needs to be seen as wider than just the core fans. Photos make great memes and this happens.

If there was a good reason for the distance (I count Avril not being comfortable with fans touching her as a good reason), then the event should have been planned to have a meaning and look good some other way.

My recommendation for the meet and greet would have been to add an acoustic guitar to the meeting and have Avril sing a couple of songs to break the ice. Had the photos still created the stories, the criticism could have been challenged by photos of an intimate acoustic show.

A small “I do love them” – comment on twitter does not quite have the same effect to balance 10 really awkward photos. On the other hand, getting really defensive would not look very good at this point either. So her subtle ‘let the fans be heard that they still love her’ method of retweeting positive tweets is probably one of the best ways to deal at this point.

What do you think about Avril Meet & Greet criticism and how Avril and her people have handled the situation? What would you do now if you were in her (or her publicist’s) shoes? 

The picture of Avril used in this post is a press photo with permissions for editorial use given by Epic Publicity.

NOTE: The Avril Lavigne quote at the top of the post is from a very old ELLEgirl interview, quoted on MTV.com. How much Avril actually lives by that rule anymore is debatable, but I still found it fitting for the discussion on the Meet & Greet photos.

PR Campaign 101: Tactics

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." -Sun Tzu

The internet is full of tips and ideas for tactics. Most of “5 ways to (boost your web presence/find get more engagement on Facebook/attract media et cetera, etcetera)” blog posts are about tactics. If you’ve ever planned something and then made it happen, you’ve already dealt with tactics.

That’s because tactics are the specific things you do when you actually execute your plan.

Internet is full of tactics, because.. 

  • That’s the easiest part of a campaign for others to see and understand what you’ve been doing
  • Same tactics may work for different purposes and so it’s easier to give general tips
  • Creative ideas often make for good stories and may get others wanting to write about what you’ve done.
  • Many people only use and look for tactics, overlooking strategy and other parts of the process

How do I know what tactics to use?

The key thing about tactics is to have them linked to your strategy and therefore your objectives. Good tactics fulfill your objects the way your strategy pointed out. So if your objectives have nothing to do with targeting senior lifestyle magazines with press releases, it’s not a good tactic for your campaign.

It may sound too stupid to even mention. It’s common sense after all, and we’re busy and the bigger problem is often doing too little than wasting time doing the wrong things. 

Still it does happen that we just follow trends and do not first think about what suits our objectives and the strategy we’ve chosen.

What are some of the tactics you’ve loved the most – either using them yourself or witnessing others use them?

 

PR Campaign 101: Key Messages

"News reporting is a cycle: No matter how much you work at sending a message, it's only successful if it's received." -Jessica Savitch

Some say we shouldn’t be thinking of messages, because nowadays it’s all about authentic conversations. We can’t control everything that’s being said online so the key is to form relationships. I agree for the most part. But I still think it’s a good step in the process to think of “messages” when preparing for a campaign – even a social media campaign.

“Messages” do not have to be about controlling or broadcasting, but rather about acknowledging a natural part of human interaction. If you tell a friend that you’ve baked a cake and then invite him/her over to try it with you, you have two key messages in the conversation: 1) your friend can expect a nice evening, eating cake with you and 2) you give him/her a “call-to-action” (please come!).

Be prepared and stay true to yourself and your brand: What kind of messages you hope to get across in conversations online or interactions with journalists and bloggers? What kind of content can you create to encourage the messages? How will you interact with people when your “key messages” are challenged?

“Messages” are not the same as what you’ll say

When you think of the messages, don’t worry about what you will say to get the messages across or how the messages themselves will sound if they are said out loud.

The messages don’t have to be said out loud in the exact words! The wonderful storytelling advice from C.S. Lewis applies also in social media and PR: “Don’t say it was delightful; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description.”

Rather than thinking of what you’ll do or say, visualize the end result! What would you like others to say or understand – remember about you at the end of the campaign? Perhaps it is that your new music brings hope to tough times, or that you’re now touring nationally/internationally.

Messages to help you through challenges

Maybe there has been a big delay in the making of the new album and your fans are disappointed about it. Think of a couple of messages like 1) you are sorry and together with them disappointed about the delays. 2) You’re working hard on the new music, but to do it well you just need more time than first expected. 3) You appreciate their loyalty and interest and you want to make the most of the time and do something fun/good together with fans already before the new album comes out.

With the key messages in mind you can then keep what you say and what you do in line with the big picture. They will also help you come up with a variety of tactics to turn the situation around. For the second message you could ask fans to vote from a couple of different options what fun y’all should do together (live streams shows, youtube video series, cover songs, fans’ cover song contest…) or you could get straight to the point: “I’m determined that we should have fun regardless, so let’s have a twitter chat once a week until I have good news to share.”

Again, the messages are there to guide you. Don’t just mindlessly repeat them over and over again. While it’s good to acknowledge frustrations and disappointments, make sure to also move on to positive. In the example above, I’d go through messages 1 & 2 and then proactively focus on things to support the third message. Of course there may be people who missed messages 1 & 2 and you may want to react to them directly again acknowledging the disappointments and frustrations before moving on the message 3.

 

PR Campaign 101: Strategy

"Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there." - John P. Kotter

Strategy and tactics are so easy to get mixed up. If you’re a PR student like me or otherwise aspiring PR professional, the difference is something we need to learn and it’s crucial for our competence to really get it. 

If you’re learning PR just for yourself and your own business, perhaps the exact terminology is not something to lose sleep over. But even then you need to understand the idea, because you need both in your campaigns:

  • Strategy is the how you’re getting your objectives done.
  • Tactics are the exact things you will be doing to fulfill the strategy.

Why is strategy important?

Strategy is like a map, which tells you how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Thinking through strategy and tactics separately means that if one tactic does not work out, you fall back on the strategy and do not have to start all over.

Your strategy could be to get local media involved in promoting your upcoming show. Then you’d think of tactics – the different ways you’d do that and if one angle doesn’t work, you can try another one. If no one responds to your press releases, come up with something you offer for a specific paper or radio show or journalist – call them up and pitch your idea.

Or your strategy could be to engage specific niche – let’s say the knitting community – find new fans and support your new album. Then you could come up with story angles which could interest knitters – for example a knitted picture as a cover art knitted CD self-knitted scarves as “band posters” or team up with for example a blog or a crafts company for a knitting contest for pieces inspired by your song. Again if one idea doesn’t work out, you don’t have to give up on the big picture, just use other tactics.

With a strategy clearly in mind, you don’t have to panic when changes are needed, you can just take a moment to assess the situation and it’s easier to know what needs changing than if your campaign is just a collection of tactics without a strategy behind them.

Do you have any tips on how to think through strategy or learn the difference between strategy and tactics? Please share them in the comments for all of us to learn!

It Takes Courage to Make a Connection

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself..."”  -C.S. Lewis

Yesterday I wrote a PR Campaign 101 post about knowing your audiences so you can better connect with them. Writing that post I just kept thinking that this is not the whole story. We can study our audiences and make calculated strategic decisions about how to interact with them and reach out to them, but really it all comes down to is human connection.

So I rewatched Brené Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame. I’ve embedded the videos to the bottom. They are so captivating and full of important stories and pointers that I recommend watching or listening to the originals rather than just read my thoughts.

Listening to Brené  I started thinking about how often we actually avoid connection even when we are talking about the importance of making a connection and learning more about those we’re trying to connect with so we can better optimize communicating and connecting.

Opening up and truly listening both require that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When you share something of yourself, whether it is your feelings, your thoughts, your values or something you have done, you open up to the possibility of someone laughing at you or criticizing you – maybe even rejecting you. The same way listening also makes us vulnerable because what we hear might not be what we expected or wanted to hear.

It takes courage, but it’s necessary for authenticity. That’s true when applying for a job or pitching a story or releasing new music just as well as it’s true in our relationships with our loved ones.

Brené Brown on the Power of Vulnerability

“Listening to Shame” (a sequel to the Power of Vulnerability)

PR Campaign 101: Audiences

"If you ask questions that interest you, you'll get answers that interest your audience." -Kurt Loder

Who are your audiences? The question will follow you everywhere so if you’re not yet used to thinking about it, let’s get started now.

“Journalists”, “Bloggers”, “My fans” or “People who like good music” (or whatever you’re offering), let alone “everyone” do not cut it as an answer to this question. You need more details.

Let’s break it down a little:

Journalists, bloggers, opinion leaders

Are you reaching out to local media or national? What do the bloggers blog about in general if you’d like for them to blog about you? Break it down to something as specific as possible. “Indie-loving writers, who review live shows in New York City” makes for a much clearer search and communication than “Any journalists or bloggers who love music”. 

Most importantly: Who are the bloggers/journalists/other influencers’ audiences? If you’re looking to connect with female business students, target blogs and publications read by the people you want to reach. (If there’s any link between that target audience and yourself, you have some great story opportunities right there..)

Fans

Get to know your fans (or however you call your customers). The better you know them the easier it is to plan things for them or ask for their help. It may also be a great advantage in finding and connecting with new fans.

Where do they live? How old are they? What do they do? How did they become your fans? Have they been to your shows before? How many of your songs do they know and love?

Then go beyond that: What makes them tick? What TV shows or movies do they watch? What other artists to they listen to? What kind of values they have? And more importantly.. What kind of values and experiences you have in common?

Audiences are people, just like you and I

It’s not just about the victories and strengths. Often connection is best made through our vulnerability and struggles. Maybe you’ll have a story or a song to share with people who are struggling with health problems or have lost a loved one. 

“Audiences” are people just like ourselves and our loved ones. Although there may be cultural differences and special interests, which require special considerations, it helps to not lose sight of the fact that we are searching for, engaging with and learning about real people.

 

PR Campaign 101: SMART Objectives

 

"Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing" - Sylvia Plath

SMART does not stand for “Remember to be smart and witty when creating your objectives”. It’s an acronym and stands for

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Achievable (some say assignable)
  • R – Realistic (some say relevant)
  • T – Time-bound

Why are SMART objectives needed?

Because “being awesome” or “World Domination” or “just reaching more new fans” may work as goals, but they aren’t specific enough that you could evaluate how you did, what worked and what didn’t.

You need Specific and Measurable to be able to know exactly what you were supposed to achieve and how you actually did. And the T for time-bound gives you a timeline of when to make that final evaluation, which tells you that.

Achievable and Realistic or Relevant are all about preparing for a success. If you aim towards world domination, set a realistic next step as an objective and make it SMART. Maybe it’s reaching 1000 mailing list subscribers (S and M and possibly A and R, too) by the end of August (T). That way with each step/campaign you’re working towards the ultimate goal and you know you’re not standing still or can detect it if you are. 

Assignable also points out that someone should take charge of the process, whether that be you or someone in your team.

It’s especially crucial when there are other people involved…

By ourselves just a feeling of how it’s going may be enough, but when there are other people involved, more clarity is needed or you will end up in trouble. Also, if you’ve been going alone but then set out to build a team around you, SMART objectives and evaluating them in the end will make a difference in introducing what you’ve been doing and how it’s been going.

Fan-funding sites like PledgeMusicKickStarter or Indiegogo give a good example of why SMART objectives are needed. You set a goal of how much money you’ll need to raise (that’s a Specific and Measurable number) and there is a timeline of how much time you have to make the goal. Those elements protect you from going in way over your head, but they also protect your fans’ investments because if you can’t raise enough money to make the project happen, they get their money back (at least in most systems they do).

To make all that happen you need to make the objective Achievable by setting the goal to a level you can handle. If you only have 50 fans and none of them is a millionaire, setting the fundraising goal to a half a million makes your objective SMRT at best. 

You’ll also need to be Realistic. If the achievable amount of money to crowdsource is not enough for the project you are making you will either need to find other ways to make the rest of what you need or you’ll need to make budget cuts.

The same applies to all your PR campaigns, too. And if you hire someone else to do run the campaign, you will especially want be able to see the campaign objectives in the beginning and then see how they were fulfilled at the end.

How are your campaigns going? What kind of challenges or benefits you’ve experienced when it comes to setting objectives? Leave comment, tweet or contact me privately so we can to talk more!

 

PR Campaign 101: Research

HighlyOrganizedResearchQuote

It’s a terribly boring word. It reeks of stuffy dark rooms full of pretentiously hard to read books or endless hours of confinement to the library. Or worse yet: annoying, monotonic interviewers calling you in the middle of dinner.

If images like that also fill your mind, when thinking of research, I challenge you to try thinking of it as the soundcheck of your communications. You do a soundcheck before each show you play so you and the sound guy will get the sound right at the show. Research is how you learn what kind of acoustics your campaign has and how to set everything right to make it “sound” the best it can.

If you’re already used to doing research and situation analyses before starting projects of all sizes, keep going. But here are a couple of tips about the mindset and what you could do, if you’re not used to doing research and if you’re wondering whether it’s worth your while.

Mindset Tips

1) Don’t be afraid of it

It does not have to be anything like school paper and even a little research is better than nothing. Especially if you’re doing everything alone it is all just for your own benefit.

2) Do it your own way

There are no rules forcing you to do things in a specific way, if you’re doing the research for yourself. You could ask for help from someone with more experience. “What do you think I should keep in mind, when this is what my goal?” Or socialize online. If you need to learn about your fans, the best way to do it is to ask them questions and read your social media statistics. Or if you’re good at delegating (great skill!) and you have someone to delegate the research part to, that works, too.

3) Build relationships

When you ask fans to share their opinions to help you, you get more than just answers to the question. You share your journey with them. With Wakey!Wakey! we conducted a fan survey this spring. Just 10 quick questions on Survey monkey. Our only pitch “We’re growing fast right now and we want our most core fans to be involved. Help us plan the next steps by taking a moment to fill out this survey- “ The positive reaction to the effort and the depth of the answers blew my mind. And the #1 lesson from the survey was definitely that people want to help, they want to be involved and they like to be heard.

Tips of what to do to research..

Fans:
  • Look at your analytics. Your website should have analytics of the visitors (I recommend Google Analytics), Facebook has good analytics for pages and there are several analytics tools for twitter, depending on what you need to know.
  • Follow discussions about you over the internet
  • Ask questions in social media/your newsletter
  • Conduct a survey
  • Talk with fans in meet and greets
Bloggers and journalists:
  • Read blogs and actively use media
  • Follow journalists and bloggers on twitter
  • Talk with your existing contacts
  • Ask tips/help from others in your network

PR Campaign 101: Why not just wing it?

"Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition." - W.H. Auden

It’s hard to believe I’m writing this post, because I don’t like going through a set of repeatable steps. Actually, I’ve fought hard against the idea because I’m intuitive and spontaneous and formulas and plans are not my preferred method of working or living.

But developing your communications is like learning to play an instrument. Practicing chords or scales helps you also play the songs you perform and if you know how to do something right you can better also break the rules. 

The same way learning a well-tested process instead of one that “just kind of happens” is that it will keep you focused and more aware of what it is you are doing and why. You don’t have to use so much energy on second guessing and if something isn’t working, it’s easier to trace back to where you went wrong. 

The basic process can be broken down in many ways. You can break it down to 4 steps: Research, planning, taking action and evaluation. But I personally recommend breaking it down to more detailed steps:

  • Research (What do you need to know beforehand)
  • Objectives (What do you want to achieve)
  • Audiences (Who do you need to reach)
  • Strategy (How are you going to make it happen)
  • Tactics (What specific things will you do)
  • Evaluation (How did it go, what can you learn for the next time)

In the next posts I will go through each of these steps one at a time as well as some related aspects and topics.

Anne Gregory  actually has broken the process down to 10 stages, but I’ve modified the steps a little to draw out the main idea. Things like budget and timeline need to be kept in mind along the way, so I’ve taken them out of the list and I’ll talk about them at the end instead.

What kind experiences do you have about creating campaigns or following through them?

PR Campaign 101: Introduction

"Growth is never an event, it's a process." -Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

What is the big communications-related question or goal you are trying to tackle right now?

Do you need to reach more people who could fall in love with your music? Inspire fans to spread the word and help you out? Connect with them better? Build a strong fan base? Grow your mailing list? Grow your twitter following? Market a tour or an album? Or simply “make it”?

The beauty of struggling with it right now is that internet is full of other people’s blog posts on pretty much anything to do with PR, marketing, social media etc. The possibilities of teaching yourself are endless. 

The downside is that there are so many tips, opinions and experiences it is hard to know which ones apply to your situation – especially when they contradict each other. It easily gets confusing or frustrating.

About a year ago I got tired of trying to figure it all out and went back to school to clear my head. I’m now almost 2/3 through my Master’s degree in Public Relations and here is the most important lesson I have learned in my studies: PR is all about a process.

I did know it before and I could have googled that, too. But it was not the quick answer to any of my burning questions. So it never sank in the way it now has.

Celebrating the relaunch of my blog, my new series “PR Campaign 101” will go through the process step by step, explaining why it will help you and why all the “extra work” actually saves time and energy.

As a highly intuitive and spontaneous person often working in environments full of sudden changes and waiting for final confirmations, I can say that just having the process in the back of your mind helps enormously.