If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
As PR professionals, we might be inclined to argue that unless the tree sent out a press release announcing its fall, it may as well not have happened at all.
Beyonce’s latest mic drop came with no press release, no pre-release media hype and no build-up but the world definitely heard the sound of that album falling. “Everything is Love” is just the latest victory in Beyonce’s series of 'Surprise Releases', with her last three albums following the same tactic of building up public relations with no publicity.
At first look, it seems like people like Beyonce and Drake have sounded the death knell for PR professionals, relying on the lack of PR activity to create their public image. On a closer look, and many rewatches of Apes**t later, two key insights emerge: the 'Surprise Release' is facilitated by an incredibly complex PR machinery, and not doing PR for the album itself, allows Beyonce to do PR for other things - like feminism and black identity.
A still from Apes**t - The Carters ( right). The Rolling Stones called it defying western art tradition by using western, mostly non-black, art from the Louvre as a backdrop.
No PR is still PR!
Beyonce’s strategy of “No PR is still PR” is an incredibly shrewd one, built on years of teaching her consumers about her persona and her music. In conducting quiet album drops on Tidal, a subscription-only music service, which is the first artist-owned music service in the world, she forces her audience to unlearn everything they know about consuming music and quite literally...bow down. The releases are calculated for maximum impact, with portals, timings, locations, tour dates, all feeding into the sensation of creating an unplanned miracle.
Beyonce’s Lemonade, another surprise album drop on Tidal, is popularly considered an ode to black womanhood. Her hit single, Flawless, sampled sections of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s seminal work - We Should All Be Feminists. The Apes**t video heroes black art and black bodies in the predominantly white, highly exclusive space of the Louvre.
Because Beyonce isn’t required to talk about herself and her product anymore, she can effectively shine her PR spotlight on issues hardly associated with pop divas. It can be argued that this is a publicity stunt of its own, using feminism and blackness to create noise and discourse about her work and person.
We’re all for it, either way, to have the world hear these rather important and too-often muffled sounds of marginalized voices.
We’ve been hard pressed to find examples of similar PR strategies in India in the recent past. Artists and brands have to push their way through the clutter and compete for our attention span, such that this kind of sustained alternative PR strategy seems difficult to execute at the moment. In the Indian context, we find it difficult to think of a company or artist who has been able to move on from doing directed PR about their product to be able to aspire to this kind of larger strategy but we would love to be proven wrong. If you have such examples in the Indian context, or other thoughts on the article, please do comment.
Karishma Joseph, currently with The Mavericks India and Spriha Dhanuka, previously with The PRactice and currently pursuing a masters in Digital Communication Leadership at the University of Salzburg.
Two young, fiercely feminist entrants to the Indian PR industry analyze their world paring apart layers of complex issues with their sharp perspective.