21st July 2015

The PR genius of Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is arguably the most powerful superstar on the planet right now. With over 60 million Twitter followers at her command (a quick Google search reveals that these are called, wait for it, ‘Swifties’ – genius); the fastest selling album in over a century (despite being purposely pulled from major streaming services), and the influence to change Apple’s decision to pay independent labels for signing up to Apple Music (a perfectly executed PR campaign? Quite possibly), Taylor Swift is the ultimate media mogul. A marketing machine if you must.

Because let’s be honest, 1989 isn’t exactly ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ or ‘Thriller’, but what Swift does have in common with her predecessors is that they all understand and utilise the power of PR for mammoth, positive results (okay Michael Jackson, probably not so much).

So, just why is Taylor Swift such a PR juggernaut?

Audience Engagement

Swift knows her audience. She knows and understands who they are, where they are, and the digital channels they occupy. Cleverly, she actively seeks her fans across these platforms and engages directly with them. It was only a few weeks ago in that she randomly responded to a fan on Tumblr who had asked his own followers for advice as to what he should wear to his high school prom (if you’re interested, Swift likes her men in ties!). A quick search of the keywords ‘Taylor Swift + Tumblr + Tie’ produces over 50,800 news results: a very canny and endearing media move from which brands can learn a lot.

Engaging in a direct and genuine way with your audience can result in column inches of coverage. Mastering engagement in the “right space” can reap benefits and rewards. What could happen if you don’t communicate in the right way? Well, cast your minds back to when U2 infamously ‘forced’ its new album onto 500 million Apple users back in 2014. Worldwide criticism instantly followed in what was one of the biggest PR blunders of the year. A learning curve no doubt, however both U2 and Apple made the fatal mistake of engaging with an audience that wasn’t its ‘target’, in a space in which they were not welcome.

She knows how to sell a product

Another favourite Taylor Swift story of mine is the one where she wrote a cheque to one of her fans to help them pay off a student loan – at the value of $1,989 – which is also the title of her latest album. Cue mountains of press and write ups around the current album being pushed for sale. This is a classic example of how a little creativity and spontaneity can be crafted into a perfectly, executed PR idea. It’s not always overblown budgets and off-the-wall ideas that produce the best results either. Take into account how Swift and her team has used PR to sell music without actually using music to sell the product itself. Yes it’s a little obvious in terms of PR but it reminds us that there are ways to creatively place products in the press.

So why have I written an article gushing over Taylor Swift? Well what intrigues me is that for an artist on the platform she has, she rarely gains negative PR – using the media in a way vastly different from how those such as the Kardashian’s and reality-TV stars use it to secure press attention. It all comes down to the root of what PR is and it’s what Swift excels at the most – communication.