Brewing Creativity: An Ingenious Plan to Market Music

August 1, 2018

[erin genett]
[erin genett]

The PR function may have earned its seat at the corporate decision-making table, but another meeting took place before we arrived, and we weren’t invited.

It seems that every time a PR team prepares a launch, the product has already been determined, developed and maybe even packaged before we’re consulted. Although public relations sometimes helps inform product features, we rarely make the first step toward the drafting table.

But we can go beyond merely promoting products we’re handed, and challenge ourselves to invent newsworthy products from the ground up. If we’re going to live or die on the success of products, then we owe it to ourselves to take a stronger hand in creating them.

PR professionals have an aptitude for invention, and we’re already tapping into it.

We solve problems.

In theory: We’ve listened. We’ve seen reviews, tweets and service logs. We’ve identified trends. We know where a company and possibly a category are falling short. We’ve spotted an opportunity to do something different.

In practice: In 2016, the Boston-based indie rock band The Lights Out was finishing an album, and we faced a tough launch.

As of late, consumers aren’t shopping in music stores like they once did, and instead mostly discovering new music online from artists who already have thousands of followers. But we realized that many music fans are also craft beer lovers.

To support the album, we had to create a new category of product — and then offer it where we knew consumers would discover it, give them an unforgettable sensory experience, convince them to pay a premium and make news along the way. Public relations would invent the world’s first album on a beer can.

We’re innate salespeople.

In theory: The same muscles we use when convincing potential clients we’re the best fit for their needs — or when persuading media to greenlight a story, or bringing cross-functional teams together on a project — can also be employed to sell a product concept or find the right manufacturing partner. Once the idea is planted and excitement is high, we know that the best way to get everyone invested in making it happen is by allowing individuals to own key elements of the project.

In practice: We took a rough cut of the album to Aeronaut Brewing Co., in Somerville, Mass., and asked them to brew a beer that would pair flavors with its sounds. There seemed to be a thematic connection between the band and the brewery: An aeronaut is a pilot of a balloon or airship, and the concept album, called “T.R.I.P.,” is about traveling through parallel, alternative universes and versions of ourselves. The idea of pairing music and beer caught on quickly at the brewery. We trusted them to do what they do best: brew a great-tasting beer. The initial prototype was hazy, well-balanced and delicious. In keeping with the album’s subject matter, the beer was brewed using cold-steeped “Galaxy” hops from Australia.

We understand the power of great visuals.

In theory: PR people don’t often get involved with packaging design, but when they do, even the wrapper can become newsworthy.

In practice: We worked with a skilled illustrator to merge the look and feel of the band and brewery on a single label for the album and beer. The finished beer can looked like a gleaming silver-and-gold capsule, straight out of a sci-fi movie. The label copy told the story of the beer fueling a drinker’s trip through the multiverse (an imagined realm of multiple universes), with the music as the soundtrack.

We inspire conversations.

In theory: PR pros know what gets consumers talking and what makes content shareable. We’ve seen hashtags succeed and fail.

In practice: To access the music, fans followed instructions on the beer cans. The beer label told consumers they could take an action on social media to unlock the digital music content. We installed a script on the band’s Twitter account that would listen for the trigger from fans and respond immediately when it was posted. The consumer would then receive a message from the band saying what they were doing at that moment in a parallel universe, and giving the fan a link to the album. A download code would have served the same purpose, but we wanted it to be visible, social, fun and interactive for fans to retrieve the music.

We know how to run campaigns.

In theory: Running campaigns is what PR pros do best, and it’s usually where our story begins. But we often focus on only one industry, when we could be pushing ourselves to create campaigns that cross industries and even continents.

In practice: For the new album and beer, we didn’t limit ourselves to pitching the usual music media. Venturing further, we tailored versions of the story for media outlets that cover food, beverages, beer, pop culture, lifestyle, business, technology, design, science, packaging and visual arts. Our efforts earned media coverage as far away as Russia, Finland and Thailand. Suddenly, competing music releases from established artists who didn’t have a food/beverage component seemed flat by comparison. Consumers ran to beer stores and shared images of themselves hoisting the album-release beer in the air, and they posted the trigger on social media to get the music. Amid one of the toughest media climates ever, we sold out of the product — twice.

When your team has helped usher a new product into the world, they’ll feel especially passionate about launching it. After a career spent publicizing everyone else’s products, nothing compares to the joy of promoting a product that you helped create. That pride of ownership is reflected in every interaction you initiate, and translates directly into results.

Adam Ritchie

Adam Ritchie owns Adam Ritchie Brand Direction, an award-winning PR agency that helps brands grow, communicate and do the right thing. His “Invention in PR” speaking tour is visiting PR programs at more than 30 universities this year. Follow him at @aritchbrand and #InventionInPR.


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