Prince and Social Media are two things which have been hard not to notice and have caused quite a stir in the UK recently.
Prince has been in the country performing a series of ‘pop-up’ concerts, promoting a forthcoming album and, if speculation is to be believed, working on some summer festival deals.
It’s not just the concerts themselves, taking place in small venues in London and Manchester, that have reasserted Prince as a man who stands out from the crowd in both talent and approach, but the way those concerts have been promoted.
As Econsultancy’s David Moth points out, “the ‘guerilla’ shows are part of Prince’s policy of avoiding middlemen and traditional marketing.” Famously (infamously, perhaps), Prince has given away new albums with UK newspapers and was part of a long and well-documented dispute with his former record label, Warner Bros. over creative ownership and control.
And so, no one was really surprised that the man who once said “the internet is dead” promoted the recent spate of gigs almost entirely through Social Media, not only prompting queues thousands-long outside the venues but also gaining print and broadcast media coverage, most notably through Woman’s Hour and Newsnight. As noted in The Sunday Times’s profile, “when a current affairs news show takes notice, you have got an event.”
Prince’s management and PR duties fall to CEO of Kikit Ltd. and Entrepreneur of the Year Nominee, Kiran Sharma, and the aptly named Purple PR. Ms Sharma was very visible throughout the campaign, using her personal Twitter account to make announcements and share comments from fans and Prince’s current band, 3rdEyeGirl. The PR company, however, seemed almost invisible. And that’s where the success of the last few weeks lies.
The perception was that Prince and his troupe had arrived in the UK and were looking for some small venues to play, with no real planning. On the red carpet of The Brit Awards, a member of 3rdEyeGirl said, “we don’t know until the morning where we’ll be playing that night.” This sent fans into a frenzy, connecting via Social Media from across the UK to try and dig out and share any vital information on the gigs. The hashtags #princewatch and #princearmy appeared, seemingly from the fans, and a fan-run account @PrinceWatchUK was set-up specifically for this purpose.
Kevin Costner was once told “if you build it, they will come” and here was an excellent example of this at work. The hashtags trended, there was 24 hour engagement and this all seemed to be coming just from the fans, with a few pieces of input from Ms Sharma and 3rdEyeGirl (for example with official YouTube clips from the gigs).
Clearly there was more going on behind the scenes than was presented. In order to move that many people around London, let alone the UK, this had to be well-planned. There’s even been suggestion that, on the night that tickets rose from being £10 to £70 and fans created the #10poundprince hashtag as a backlash, prompting tickets to be reduced again, it was actually Purple PR hard at work creating some trickery to gain yet more attention.
Whatever mastery was at work, this was a unique event, promoted in a unique way. This was a utilisation of modern media, the like of which has not been seen before, purely relying on the word-of-mouth generated by Social Media output to sell-out each show played and generate a huge amount of valuable mainstream exposure. (They even turned Manchester Town Hall purple for the occasion!)
What has all this done for Prince’s reputation? Certainly there has been upset from those who don’t regularly use Social Media; has he alienated a large amount of people? Those who are disabled and unable to queue all day outside gigs have also been challenged by his tactics.
I would suggest that Prince’s team will be more likely asking the question, “Has all this helped us achieve our goals?” If those goals were indeed to pre-promote the new album and secure that lucrative summer deal then only time and album sales will tell. For a few days near the end of February, though, one didn’t have to look far (be it online on the radio or on the newspaper rack) to read word of Prince, hear his new music and see fans going crazy!