Published Wednesday 25 March 2009 at 09:25 by Mark Borkowski
Familiar with Facebook and always available to Twitter, PR guru Mark Borkowski says there is no excuse for promoters to ignore the endless advertising possibilities of social networking sites
It may seem strange to be talking about 19th century impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum in the middle of the social networking revolution, but the more I see of how live entertainment marketing and PR is applying itself to the Facebook and Twitter generation, the more I realise that we could all learn a lesson from him.
Barnum was the original viral marketer, an inspired man who got whole towns turning out to see his circus, countries talking about his acquisition of an outsize elephant, using new methods with the joy of a child in a toy store and a depth of understanding that seems to be missing in the Facebook and Twitter revolution.
If Barnum were operating today, he would be bending his mind towards Twitter, towards social networking. Barnum would recognise these options as ways of creating innovative, cheap campaigns for attention relying on word of mouth. He would be following in the footsteps of the film promoters who painted Homer Simpson on a hillside next to the Cerne Abbas giant to promote The Simpsons Movie and who projected Dr Manhattan on the Thames to promote Watchmen. He would be spreading the word on the internet in creative ways, pulling live entertainment out of the ghetto of the cultural pages and pulling in the people who use Twitter and Facebook.
“Something terrible happens without promotion,” said Barnum. “Nothing.” But just as bad is ignoring new forms of promotion – one does so at one’s peril.
Live entertainment has to embrace and further accelerate opportunities in creative brand amplification by way of bespoke communications solutions, encompassing experiential, online events, guerrilla and street activity. The current fragmentation of the media and rise of social networks means that live entertainment must take advantage of its ever-evolving complementary disciplines to amplify campaigns. I believe it’s important to capture the imagination of the public in a technology-driven world of consumer empowerment.
If Barnum was eschewing traditional forms of marketing and advertising in 1880, why then are alternative circuses such as La Clique, Cirque du Soleil, 7 Fingers, No Fit State and Circus Oz relying on them 130 years later? Why aren’t they diving into the worlds of Facebook and Twitter with alacrity? It is not enough to be churning out slavish advertising that nobody sees, simply because there is so much of it to see. Facebook had, last time I looked, 14.4 million unique users in the UK.
The live performance promoters that are using these networking sites have yet to get beyond using them as versions of the same old advertising tropes – they need to understand fully how they can be made to work. Slavish Facebook pages that offer little in the way of interaction are not the answer. Live productions offer something exciting that reaches the hearts of the audience. Why shouldn’t a digital marketing campaign do the same?
Social networking offers up, on a plate, the opportunity to produce remarkable campaigns for remarkable events. Facebook and Twitter need to be used to create conversations with the audience – building a community that bypasses the usual ghettos of the arts. Skilful, strategic and creative use of social networking can build an audience without recourse to the culture section of the media. It’s all about creating communities, sourcing crowds and engaging them, one step beyond the old-style push mentality.
Live performance promoters should be aiming far wider – they need to, given that the live arena can be so unpredictable. They need to stop waiting for critical adoration – in this busy world, it is ever harder to come by. They should be aiming for coverage in the financial sections, on the front pages and, most importantly, in the hearts and minds of the people they are trying to reach. To do this involves some serious revision of the way that their marketing teams operate. It is not enough, in a recession, to rely solely on the old methods. There is money available and people are willing to spend it, on entertainment. Look at Michael Jackson’s sell-out, 50-date run at the O2 arena, built on a Twitter whispering campaign. Look at the way Jonathan Ross (aka “@Wossy”) has rebuilt and re-engineered his image in the wake of Sachsgate using Twitter and the community of fans he talks to daily.
If the West End thinks that Twitter is ‘not my target audience’, they’re wrong. It is a network whose swiftest growing user age group is the post-45s, who sit happily online alongside the younger generations. Social networking is not a replacement for older marketing methods, but it can be used to pull in crowds who can then have the information pushed out to them.
There are millions of people who are waiting for outrageous, funny, interesting and informative live performances, who can be found crowding the digital social networking arenas. The marketing for these shows needs to be more agile and creative – discover all there is to discover about Twitter, Facebook and the like and utilise them to the max.
And, as Barnum said: “Every crowd has a silver lining.”
• Mark Borkowski is on Twitter as @MarkBorkowski.