Beyonce’s new iTunes record—the singer’s album broke a million sales in six days on Wednesday—should be a lesson not only to pop stars but to anyone with a message to get across. The singer released the album entirely without prior fanfare, tossing it onto iTunes with a casual insouciance. It was a masterclass in cutting through the general PR melee and of course, a conscious purpose of control.
Beyonce’s people have said the release was all about talking directly to the fans without interference from the media. A fun idea, but not likely to be of much use to artists who’ve not had millions of dollars spent on their promotion over the years. The more important point to draw from it for PR pixies is how shouting loudly just doesn’t work any more. Nobody can hear!
Put simply, there is now a colossal amount of noise in the world. Everywhere you look, you are being told about somebody SPECIAL, UNIQUE, IMPORTANT and always, always GROUNDBREAKING. And you are being told VERY LOUDLY. Actually, this just serves to make everything sound more or less the same. This year, the tweet in which TIME magazine announced its person of the year was retweeted more than 15,000 times, compared to only 3,281 retweets for the equivalent tweet last year. Vine launched, and Instagram started a video service, introducing moving pictures into an already cacophonous online landscape. In traditional media, too, things are getting increasingly feverish, with the MailOnline soaring above 100m unique browsers for the first time in August.
Where once being big and brash and standing out from the comparatively grey crowd was exciting and impressive, now the opposite is the case. Beyonce cut through because her lack of fanfare was so surprising, that ironically, it created a much bigger splash once the media cottoned on. Others have followed the same route with great success. The photo-sending app Snapchat launched in 2011 and spread through word of mouth, targeting a hypercommunicative millennial market and expending all its energy on simply being useful to them, rather than making a big fuss. As a result, its brass-balled founders were able to turn down a $3bn offer from Facebook this November. The Web TV service Netflix upped its game in 2013 by producing original series (House of Cards, Arrested Development, Orange is the New Black) picked for their wit, intelligence and potential to build a community, rather than because they would produce the biggest headlines.
If you want to make it big with a launch in 2014, I suggest you start thinking now about exactly who you want to speak to. As the Now Economy becomes ever more fast paced, and complex, timing and careful positioning are more important than ever before.