6 PR takeaways from the reboot of ‘American Idol’

The new-look competition offers more than incredibly talented—and humorous—contestants. Consider these PR lessons from the hit show.

Are you tuning in for the return of the beloved singing competition?

First, I watched with some skepticism, but it’s winning me over. Not only is it entertaining, but there are lessons PR pros can learn from watching the show.

Here are six takeaways:

1. Use storytelling for the win.

Contest backstories are one of the hallmarks of “American Idol.” The stories range from funny to touching to just plain incredible.

There are stories like the contestant whose mother traded him for a car, or the story of the man from Compton who was faced with the choice of adopting his sister’s baby—or allowing him to enter the foster care system.

Through these stories, we get to know the contestants and feel even more connected to them when they sing. We want to know what happens to them and are eager to follow their stories.

If you can include elements of storytelling in your PR efforts, including your media pitches, articles and press releases, chances are they’ll be more successful.

2. Bring in a human element.

When “American Idol” gives viewers a glimpse into the lives of the contestants, we see the human side. Of course, emotion wins the day.

The show’s producers understand this and hook us by humanizing the contestants—and the judges. Who doesn’t want to tune in to see Luke Bryan and Katy Perry pulling whoopee cushion pranks on fellow judge Lionel Richie?

Similarly, if an audiences feels an emotional connection to a brand or product, research shows they’re at least three times more likely to recommend the product and three timesmore likely to re-purchase it. It’s a differentiator.

Mark Schaefer, best-selling author and executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, often talks about the need for humanity in marketing.

I feel strongly there must be some compelling human element to thatcontent,” says Schaefer. “To stand out today you must be original, and to be original you have no choice but to bring your own story into the picture.”

If you can include the human side in your marketing and PR efforts, you’re more likely to win over their hearts—and their wallets.

3. Include some comic relief.

In addition to showcasing the brightest talent, “American Idol” throws in a dose of failed auditions for good measure. Viewers like to see the performers who aren’t as successful, too. It turns out that some “singers” aren’t as talented as they may think they are.

Try adding some humor to your communications campaigns, if it’s a fit. Funny images or video can lighten up the messaging and can sometimes catch on as people share them on social media.

4. There are always risks with a reboot.

If you decide to restart a program, there are always risks. To minimize these risks, keep what works and change up the rest.

“American Idol” kept host Ryan Seacrest, but they changed up the judges to get a better balance of criticism and warmth.

How does this translate to marketing communications? If, for example, you’re relaunching your company newsletter, keep what readers enjoyed most but include new content to replace what didn’t work.

5. Look for “star” quality.

On this new version of “American Idol”, the judges seem to be looking for more than just a good voice. They’re looking for that “it” factor, a sense of style that can take a contestant over the top.

The lesson for communicators is that in a sea of the same old type of stories, look for the ones that stand out. Look for the story that isn’t like all the others; one that has that edge that may be just what the audience is craving.

6. Sometimes being “nice”—not controversial—is a breath of fresh air.

The new “American Idol” has drawn some criticism from those who miss the acerbic Simon Cowell seasons—or the days of Mariah Carey having it out with Nicki Minaj. However, in a time of what seems like constant conflict, maybe giving people an alternative is exactly the right move.

“ABC’s version of American Idol doesn’t come at you like the pugnacious, grandiose hit it used to be,” says Eric Deggans of NPR. “But at a time when real-life events have left audiences hungry for familiar, soothing television, this year’s model might work better than anyone expects.”

Remember to inject some “feel good” vibes in your PR campaigns. Don’t think that everything must be controversial to stand out.

Maybe your audience just wants to have some fun.

Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer at Garrett Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter @PRisUs or connect with her on LinkedIn. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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Topics: PR


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