John Lennon, whose birthday it is today, had some terrific PR chops. Sure, with Paul McCartney he formed one of the most enduring songwriting teams ever. But Lennon also had a knack for publicity and playing the media like a grand piano.
Lennon, who was murdered in December 1980, is remembered for revolutionizing pop music. And while they may not measure up to his musical genius, Lennon’s publicity efforts certainly hold some lessons for communicators.
> Integrated marketing: In 1969 John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, launched their "War Is Over!" campaign, with billboards in New York, London, Hollywood, Toronto, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Athens and Tokyo proclaiming the message in giant black letters on a white field—and in much smaller type at the bottom, "Happy Christmas, John and Yoko." The message was repeated on posters, leaflets, and newspaper ads. The ad buys were followed up with the release of “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” Lennon's 1969 campaign began with a "War Is Over!" benefit concert in London.
PR Lesson: Once you deliver a message (through whichever medium), that’s not the end of a PR campaign, but the beginning. The follow-up is critical. You need to build momentum and send the same message over and over, but by different means.
> The art of the publicity stunt: During the Vietnam War, in 1969, Lennon and Ono held two week-long “Bed-Ins” for Peace in Amsterdam and Montreal. The stunt was inspired by the famous “sit-ins” of the 1960s. The couple was ridiculed in the press for sitting in bed for weeks on end, but that didn’t matter. Lennon and Ono were able to use the “Bed-Ins” as yet another platform for their anti-war efforts.
PR Lesson: In today’s media environment it’s tougher than ever to cut through the clutter. It’s not a matter of “thinking outside of the box,” but losing the box altogether and doing things that may seem a little strange at first but, at the same time, are legitimate efforts to get a serious message out. Plus, when you’re performing publicity stunts that may rub certain media outlets the wrong way, sit back and watch the returns come in. The media love to foster what they condemn.
> Always be accessible: Up until his “retirement” in 1975, Lennon was a fairly regular presence on the talk-show circuit. (We know we’re aging ourselves, but we recall a delightful week in 1972 when we watched John and Yoko as co-hosts on “The Mike Douglas Show.”) The various talk shows provided yet another vehicle for Lennon to get his messages out, not to mention expanding his audience. And despite his celebrity, Lennon used to amble around his Upper West Side neighborhood just like any New Yorker.
PR Lesson: Unless the venue is completely unrelated to your brand, there’s little excuse for PR execs to turn down requests to have them (or their bosses) speak at events, conferences and other media venues. You won’t have the spotlight like Lennon, of course, but an opportunity to press the flesh, reinforce your message and give voice to your brand reputation. Showing up goes a long way.
Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1