Using pop culture to create buzz & engagement

03 December 2019 10:00

Combining Media Intelligence and Pop Culture for PR Success

Engaging with pop culture in an intelligent way can be an irresistible PR tactic. It's only natural to want to position a brand alongside people and events that are drawing huge amounts of coverage to try and reap some of that excitement and buzz.

When done correctly, the results can be hugely positive. Looking at PR Examples' list of last year's biggest success stories bears this out: An event as simple as social media users fighting over the color of "the dress" turned into a launchpad for dozens of campaigns, winning plenty of coverage.

However, tapping into pop culture moments is a delicate business. The list of top campaigns included Snickers' jokes about controversial former BBC personality Jeremy Clarkson. That effort was deemed a success, but could easily have gone awry. Clarkson lost his role on popular show Top Gear for physically attacking a producer, and associating a brand with such a volatile personality runs the risk of staining its image. It's clear that agencies need to have a sharp eye on both trending topics and the reaction to their own efforts, which is where good media monitoring features will pay dividends.

Timeliness gets victories

News cycles move faster every day. Today's topic of discussion will be buried by tomorrow. With such a narrow window of relevance, a real-time dashboard is the obvious choice for media monitoring. Customizing a view to show print stories, television coverage and social posts on one particular element of the pop culture conversation can give agencies all the angles they need while the events are still relevant.

Watching individuals' profiles rise and fall is a similarly fast-paced experience. Getting a glimpse of the current constellation of stars and social media-anointed notable names is important but difficult. "Current" may mean relevant that day or hour rather than week or month. Setting up a word cloud visualization that filters out top influencers lets communications pros know who people are really talking about in real time.

Break down news by geography

Sometimes, influence just doesn't translate. Companies that operate across the world want to ensure their communications are relevant for each of their markets. This is another feature of good media monitoring: the ability to break down coverage by geography and language. This could call for different strategies for each territory.

Track the reactions

Of course, once a company makes its play for relevance, it's time to use media analytics to assess its own mentions. This is where tools such as sentiment analysis come into play, determining whether the audience is reacting well, as well as how much coverage is coming in. Maybe the messaging has been successful and demands a follow-up, or perhaps the stab at relevance has been rejected by the audience. In either case, PR reps need to know so they can plan their next moves.

For example, the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control bureau invested heavily in a zombie-themed disaster preparedness PR campaign over the past few years, inspired by high-profile media like The Walking Dead. The initial impact of the campaign was massive, catapulting the normally low-profile agency into viral status and trending topics across social networks on its debut. It remains an extremely popular campaign - but did it work?

Research conducted by the CDC four years after the campaign's release suggests that the impact is mixed. A study in the National Communication Association's Communications Currents journal showed that the "
zombie preparedness campaign vastly increased emergency-preparedness message exposure
and created national buzz, particularly among difficult-to-reach and previously untapped audiences." However, it actually had a net negative impact when it came to young adults taking the messaging more seriously and taking actual steps to prepare for disasters by finding more educational material, buying disaster kits or taking other precautionary steps.

Media monitoring should be ongoing, but is especially important after big announcements or campaigns that directly look for engagement from the media or an audience. Failure to receive hoped-for levels of coverage isn't a disaster, as long as the business realizes what has happened and moves on. Negative coverage is of course worse, and it's when this occurs that PR teams will be especially glad they are monitoring media, the better to counter the bad press.

Where is the conversation?

Media intelligence can be customized and targeted to any relevant topic, whether it's an industry-specific announcement or a pop cultural event to piggyback. With an eye always on trends as they develop, PR departments can intelligently become part of the conversation. Without, efforts to play off of current topics may miss the mark and dent the brand's image.

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