Curtain Rising for PR to Produce Bolder Events

Last night Hollywood celebrated its annual rite of self-congratulation, also known as the Oscars. While most viewers were tallying winners and losers, more than a few PR pros probably were watching the show seeking inspiration for how to, well, put on a good show. Despite the digital onslaught and consumers being surgically attached to their smartphones—and seldom looking up from said devices—live events and conferences increasingly are becoming key marketing components for brands and organizations.

The Oscars and other marquee events can provide tips for communicators regarding the pace of a show or event; the most effective way to align an event with brand attributes; how to wow consumers, and, perhaps most important, ways to cross-pollinate an awards program with digital and/or brand channels.

Sean Lashley, senior VP & partner, and global entertainment lead at FleishmanHillard, said that some of his clients are starting to leverage proprietary data to link to physical events, including the Oscars, without actually creating an event of their own or being a sponsor of an event.


For instance, a bit before, during and after this year’s Oscars, a major search engine—that Lashley would not name—provided the agency with data about which of the Academy Award nominees was garnering the most “search strings.”

Fleishman then packaged the data and distributed it to celebrity publicists who, in turn, pushed out the information through their clients’ media and social channels.

“In the case of this client, it’s not about being present at the event but finding a way to produce relevant content that will engage consumers who are passionate already about film,” Lashley said.

Fleishman also works with clients to get the message out during live events.

In 2014 Fleishman helped Udi’s Gluten Free baked products reach celebrity tastemakers via a pop-up café set up at the Sundance Film Festival. In addition to the physical site, Fleishman deployed a video crew to capture interviews with celebrities, which were then cut into a produced package and distributed via syndicated TV programs The Better Show and The Daily Buzz.

The effort was designed to get consumers to think differently about gluten-free products and convince them that such products are not just for people with medical ailments.

“We looked for people who want to live a healthy lifestyle—people from Hollywood generally—and the early adopters who can then help to influence the mainstream,” Lashley said.

Plugging the product via the film festival, he added, “was a great opportunity to provide a service. One of the biggest challenges at Sundance is finding food on the run. We were able to get immediate feedback on what consumers like and don’t like.”

He said there are three questions PR pros should keep in mind when they embark on producing live events:

1. Is this event right for my brand and my audience?

2. If so, should the company consider an official sponsorship of the event or should it leverage the buzz of the event to create a brand halo?

3. What is the ultimate goal of the event? Do you want to engage with consumers? Do you want to leverage celebrity influencers and/or drive media coverage? The event goal(s) will determine what levers to pull and when.


Whether PR pros peg their brand to a live event that is being broadcast or produce organic programs, they have to be cognizant that they’re not simply adding to the clutter, which could alienate customers and prospects.

“We’re very careful about how to engage consumers smartly,” said Morgan Johnston, manager of corporate communications at JetBlue. The airline produces events where “we have a real voice. [The event] speaks to the brand’s values and we can add to the conversation.”

Take “Live From T5,” a concert series that takes place at JetBlue’s JFK Airport’s Terminal 5. Artists including Ella Henderson, Sarah McLaughlin and Taylor Swift have performed on the stage, which is set up beyond the airline’s security checkpoint.

“While the performances often are captured and shared via our seat-back televisions for all our customers to enjoy, it’s the customers in the airport—when the concerts pop-up—who are often the most floored by the moments,” Johnston said. “It’s something that’s very unexpected and gives customers an ‘Aha!’ moment.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt JetBlue that most customers who stumble on the live concert immediately whip out their smartphones to record the show and share it with friends and family. JetBlue encourages public conversation about the concerts via the #LFT5 hashtag.

“The more targeted the activation the more your customers feel as though you’re speaking to them as individuals,” Johnston added.

He stressed that the PR and marketing teams at JetBlue now spend more time watching marquee events, such as the Oscars and the Grammys, for clues about how to communicate through the physical environment.

“We don’t base success on whether we get our name around an event, but getting our name out there in an authentic way that adds to the conversation,” Johnston said.

He would not divulge how much of JetBlue’s marketing budget is devoted to live events.


Sean Lashley,; Morgan Johnston,

This article originally appeared in the February 23, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.