A gif of Adam Ritchie giving his presentation

The baseline, bare-minimum approach to public relations isn’t sufficient for most roles practitioners will take up these days. There certainly are things that every practitioner should do when hired: going over a comprehensive crisis plan, evaluating goals and metrics, etc. These steps are still highly relevant and have their place in the modern public relations role.

But by doing the usual, run-of-the-mill approaches to running a campaign (pushing out a press release, contacting a few reporters, and not much more) you’re not going to be putting your campaign in a position to succeed. Today’s information environment is a meritocracy: gone are the days when a few content producers and distributors dominated the landscape. If you want attention, you have to earn it.

So when practitioners like Adam Ritchie approach struggling brands that have low budgets, small audiences, and no obvious way to fix any of their problems, they have to think outside of the box.

Having it both ways

One of Ritchie’s claims that particularly stuck with me was the idea that public relations practitioners can “have it both ways.” By this, he means that, while data and analytics are integral steps in evaluating the success of a campaign and should be used accordingly, practitioners shouldn’t lose sight of the creative and fun aspects of the job. Indeed, according to Ritchie, practitioners have to think creatively in order to be successful. In the information meritocracy of today, creative thinking is a fast-track for your campaign.

In one example, Ritchie partnered with a local brewery company to advertise the release of The Lights Out’s new album, T.R.I.P., releasing the album on the actual can of beer itself. The medium became the story.

This is the power of outside-of-the-box thinking. For any unsigned, small-time band, a new album release is really only news to a small group of people. Ritchie recognized this, and realized he needed to make a story around the album release—something with universal news value. Enter Aeronaut Brewing Company, who partnered with The Lights Out for the release. The story was a hit, and Ritchie ended up winning four Silver Anvils for the campaign.

It doesn’t have to be impossibly clever

The more I think about this campaign, the more confused I get. How did Ritchie choose beer as the medium? Why not a local soda-brewing company, or nightclub, or any of the other bustling local industries native to Boston and Cambridge? How do you even come up with the idea of using something as off-character as a beer can to release a new album?

But this is a slightly backwards way of thinking of it. Any clever idea is just one of several that could have come about, and looking at an already-successful campaign as a model for future campaigns is more or less the definition of confirmation bias. Put another way: this campaign could have failed, but it didn’t. Ritchie paired two things he was presumably passionate about and thought would go well together—his band and beer—did some research to test his hypothesis, took a leap of faith, and stuck the landing. This isn’t a foreign formula to the field of public relations, it’s simply an excellent case study of doing it well.

Doing it yourself

The important thing isn’t to copy the specifics. In fact, I’d gander that if my a cappella group were to try to partner with a local brewery and replicate Ritchie’s exact campaign, it wouldn’t be nearly as successful—it’s already been done! But the notion of dropping a single in an unusual or interesting way to increase our news value certainly is applicable. It’s working out the specifics that makes public relations a challenge, and involves the perfect synchronization of “both ways” of the job: gut feeling, and analytic insights.