Rock n Roll, PR And Sometimes Not Giving a Shit.

April 19, 2010

My weekend started with a very special show at Seattle’s Showbox Theater with a performance by Soundgarden, their first in nearly 14 years. It was an amazing show and a historic moment in music. They sounded great, looked great, and there was an energy in the room much different from a typical concert; people knew they were witnessing something big. The weekend ended on a much different note, but a musical note as well. Norah Jones brought my weekend to a close and although a very different vibe than Chris Cornell and the Soundgarden boys, still a fantastic show. Despite the fact that Norah is a little on the mellow side for my tastes, I was in awe at her versatility and the range of her voice – it’s beautiful.

On my morning run, my Shuffle ended up on a mix of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Hendrix, and the Clash. The one thing I don’t want to think about when I’m running, is running – so I try to get lost in music. Today, I found my thoughts drifting between PR, rock n roll, and how most great bands became great by focusing souly on the music and not caring about what people thought of them. And it’s not just rock bands. Pick any music genre and I guarantee you the artists who define that genre marched to the beat of their own drum (no pun).

So somewhere between mile 2 and 3 I thought about the benefit of not caring what others think when you know you’re doing the right thing. I think the PR industry spends way too much time “giving a shit” about how this will be perceived or that will sound. Yes – it’s our job to give great counsel but the reality is not everyone is going to like you, your product, the way you look, your ideals, political leanings, etc. It makes me crazy how safe most people in my industry are – afraid to have strong opinions because some might not agree. It’s not just PR – the sickness is rampant amongst many companies who don’t do or say what they ultimately know is the right thing. The reasons vary: may ruffle feathers of the board, a customer might not like a new direction, competitors may use it against them, or new path might not offer total clarity. The irony in this is the world’s most successful people (except politicians) knew at some point they weren’t going to please “all the people all the time”. So why does everyone want to be so safe? Why do PR folks mask things by couching them as strategic public relations? As opposed to what…dumb public relations? Call it what they may but it comes down to being smart, couragious, having great ideas, the ability to take risks, and accepting that not everyone is going to like the proposed direction.

Although the music may differ, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Elton, KISS, Kurt Cobain, Madonna, Lady Gaga and hundreds more all started from the same place: a decision to be real and accept that being real brings great opportunity and some challenges. Might you offend? Maybe. But will you stand out? Absolutely. We’re at a great point technologically where more than ever everyone can have a voice. Be noticed – be the soloist – don’t just hide in the safety of the choir. Or as John Bonham, one of the greatest drummers of all time, once said, “Nowadays you can’t be loud enough”.

Howie

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