Though I tried valiantly, I was not one of the lucky ones who scored tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras concert as she toured the U.S. Trying to get tickets in Chicago was laughable, so I tried other cities, to no avail.
I wasn’t too, too upset by it because my small one is only ten years old; we have plenty of time to see her again.
But when she released a movie of her concert, I wasn’t about to let that one sneak by us! I bought tickets several weeks ago, and we finally saw it.
We were floored. I honestly didn’t think seeing a movie of a concert would be an incredible experience, and I was wrong. I loved being able to see things we wouldn’t have been able to see at the concert—like her chipped fingernail polish, the red soles on their shoes, the faces of all of the dancers and band members, and her bangs plastered to her forehead from sweat, just like mine do when I ride my bike.
But more, I sat there in awe as I watched this 33-year-old command not just a sold-out audience in LA but in movie theaters across the country. Kind of makes you wonder what you’ve done with your life. But also…dang! She is a PR dream.
Everything she does is a lesson in how to do PR extraordinarily well and how long it takes to execute it flawlessly.
The PR Playbook Taylor Swift Employs
I like Taylor Swift. Her music is fun and catchy. I have a great memory of being at INBOUND when “Shake It Off” was first out. I was standing in the hotel lobby with Chris Penn and some other friends when it came through the overhead speakers. Chris started to belt out the song and do a little dance; to this day, it makes me laugh. Of all people! Even Chris Penn likes Taylor Swift! (He probably will hate that I just told all of you that story, which makes it even more delightful.)
But I’ve never considered myself a Swiftie. And then two things happened: I started working with a woman who is a HUGE fan. I mean, huge. Everything she does is Taylor Swift-related, and it’s hilarious. When Midnights was released, she stayed up until midnight and messaged us all that it was out. Of course, most of us didn’t see the message until the next morning, but we appreciated the effort.
The other thing that happened is my little one and her friends became obsessed with her. When I have a bunch of little girls in the back of the car, they always request Taylor Swift. When you’re surrounded like that, you have to give in.
But even still. It wasn’t until I saw her movie that I really got it. She came out on stage and took a minute for herself to soak it all in. What a great reminder for us to stop and smell the roses. I’ll bet she stood there a full 30 seconds and just looked at the stadium—A SOLD-OUT STADIUM—full of fans and took it all in.
She also seems so….real. I’ve seen many great performers in my day and heard lots of great music, but I’ve never seen someone so relatable. From the stories she told and her self-deprecating humor to her chipped nail polish and bangs stuck to her forehead from sweat, she seems like someone you’d genuinely like to hang out with (and I guess Travis Kelce is proving us all right!).
But even if you don’t believe all the hype or are not a fan, there is a huge lesson here: she’s a public relations master.
Let’s talk about how.
Her Authenticity Is Unapologetic
Remember a few weeks ago when we talked about storytelling, and I joked that the number one rule is to be authentic because every one of my tips began with authenticity? Well, it turns out that’s what makes Taylor Swift a super megastar: she’s authentic.
Authenticity is my noticing during the movie that she seems so real. You can’t fake that. To be authentic, you have to, in the words of my mother, “remember who you are and what you stand for.”
This means that you must clearly define your brand values and stick by them, even if it means you’ll eventually piss someone off. There are plenty of Taylor Swift detractors, but she doesn’t stray from who she is. I laughed out loud when she said, “I’m just a Millennial who sits at home covered in cat hair.” That makes her approachable, authentic, and real.
She Has Retaken Control of Her Art
She’s a masterful storyteller. During her concert, she talked about how each era represented her life, and it was easy to put yourself in the same spot—from high school through adulthood.
Of late, one of the stories she has mastered is re-telling the eras of her career and journey by taking back the rights to her music. As she re-records every album, she labels them with “Taylor’s Version,” so fans are invested in updating their playlists and only streaming her version of each song.
And that’s not just about storytelling, either. It’s a genius business move that gives her control of her art without relying on (or giving royalties to) someone else.
And speaking of genius business moves, when Ticketmaster bombed the selling of her concert tickets, she moved to release her concert film. She cut out the Hollywood middleman and went straight to AMC theaters. Not only did it provide an opportunity for more people to see her in concert (for a lot less than the price of a ticket), but it boosted her personal revenue in a big way.
She Is an Engagement Master
I love me some user-generated content, and so does Taylor Swift. She engages fans by hiding Easter eggs in her lyrics, music videos, performances, public appearances, and promotions. Her costumes, props, elaborate stage design, and dance moves hold clues about future projects, eliciting wild analyses, speculation, and fan theories on TikTok (or #SwiftTok) about what these cryptic messages could mean.
By doing this, she infuses elements of surprise to engage her fans by including videos they’ve created using her creations. It’s akin to the Star Wars fans—she allows her fans to create stories inside stories inside stories and then highlight some of her favorites publicly.
There is so much more, but I want to have time to talk you through the Taylor Swift PR Playbook that you can use in your own campaigns.
Authenticity Is Key
Could I be more of a broken record lately with the authenticity drum I’ve been beating? But that is the number one rule to all of this—storytelling, controlling the narrative, engaging an audience, and excelling at PR.
There are many ways to do this (and not do it), but the general idea is that you must know who you are as an organization and what you stand for. That means if you upset a subset of your audience because of your core values, you can live with it because you’re not faking it.
For instance, I named my second business Spin Sucks because I hate, I mean HATE, the idea that people think we lie for a living. That means everything we do has to be above reproach—and it’s part of our story. Do we make mistakes? Of course. But ethics is our guiding light so we use that to make good on our mishaps.
I explored this idea with the San Diego Zoo when I was visiting with my family. We had a private tour, and they talked about how much they do for animals and conservation. Our tour guide said, “Everything we do has to be above reproach because we don’t want to harm any living thing.”
So while there will be detractors—the San Diego Zoo has them, Taylor Swift has them, my team and I have them—it’s easy to stay the course because it’s a value you will never stray from.
Plus, if you are truly authentic, your audience will back you up forcefully when a mistake is made, or there is a crisis. Be authentic.
Develop Strong Brand Storytelling
We talked about this a few weeks ago. People relate to stories. Stories build trust. People buy from people they trust.
Storytelling provides an insider’s view and helps leaders demonstrate vision, inspire action, challenge the process, enable others to act, and engage the heart. After all, people are more likely to remember something if told through a story and if it moves them.
Build and Engage with Your Audience
Invest in building a loyal and engaged customer base. SO MANY execs look at the community we built with Spin Sucks, and they say, “We want that!” I always say, “Great! It will take years. You will get frustrated and won’t see its value immediately, so you’ll shut it down and blame us for it not working.”
Then they argue with me about why I’m wrong. But I’m not wrong. Like Taylor Swift has spent 20 years building and engaging with her audience. We have spent ten years. It didn’t take either of us that long to build community, but it did take more than a few weeks or months. Longer than most want to invest.
All to say, part of your PR playbook is to build and engage with your audience. So, set the budget aside to do that and be OK with not seeing a return on that investment for several years.
Create Philanthropic Initiatives
Align your brand with social causes that resonate with your audience—and align with your core values. It demonstrates your commitment to social responsibility and enhances your brand’s image as a socially conscious and caring entity.
To boot, it will set your brand apart from your competition. It shows that you are not solely focused on profit but on giving back to the community or addressing social and environmental issues.
It also provides compelling stories to tell and engages your audience on a deeper level—both things your Taylor Swift PR Playbook needs to include.
Strategic PR Management
If you don’t already have a crisis management plan, get one. We talked about this recently, too. A crisis plan is akin to having insurance—you should have it just in case you’ll eventually need it. And, in today’s world, it’s more likely than not that you’ll need it.
If you don’t already have a skilled PR team to help you navigate challenges and maintain a positive image, you know where to find me. But find someone or a team to help you proactively address issues and clearly communicate your brand’s stance.
Cultivate Partnerships and Collaborations
It’s challenging to go it alone, particularly when you need to reach new audiences. That’s where collaborations and partnerships come into play. Work with brands and influencers that align with your values and seek partnerships that expand your reach and introduce your brand to new audiences.
The collaborations should be authentic and mutually beneficial—just like Taylor Swift cutting out the Hollywood middleman and going straight to the theaters.
Awards and Industry Recognition
Listen, I’m not a big fan of awards and industry recognition, mostly because they’re pay-to-play. I feel like if you’re going to win something, it should be organic.
But, I also recognize that winning these types of things helps you reach new audiences if they’re strategically placed. They will help you build trust and credibility, even if you pay to be considered.
Engage Your Fans or Customers
Create loyalty programs, exclusive events, or rewards for your most dedicated customers. Hide Easter eggs in your content. Make your customers feel valued and appreciated.
When you do these things, they will become your most powerful salesforce—telling everyone who will listen to them about you. They will create content you can use, provide word-of-mouth marketing, amplify your good work, and even help you create new products or services.
I often lean on the Spin Sucks Community when considering something new because they are always willing to help.
Surprise and Delight
To engage your customers, occasionally surprise them with unexpected announcements or releases. This can foster a strong emotional connection between your brand and customers. When people feel valued and appreciated, they are more likely to remain loyal. It can also be a great way to generate new user-generated content and include your community in your efforts.
Some ways to do this might include:
- Sending personalized thank-you notes or gifts to loyal customers.
- Offering unexpected discounts or freebies.
- Hosting exclusive events or product launches for a select group of customers.
- Recognizing and celebrating customer milestones, such as birthdays or anniversaries.
- Conducting random acts of kindness or charitable initiatives on behalf of your brand.
Stay Relevant and Adaptable
I tell this story often because I continue to be impressed by it. When I served on the board of a company that sold right before the pandemic (the timing of that was impeccable), the founder would begin each meeting with a state of the industry report.
It was incredibly helpful to understand where the industry was and where it was predicted to go because it informed many of our decisions.
If you do the same thing at least once a quarter, you can adapt your brand strategy accordingly. You can continuously refresh your content to keep it interesting and timely.
Every year, I share our first blog post to show that, with practice, everyone gets better at all things communications-related, even if it’s their expertise. Taylor Swift did the same as she’s evolved from country crooner to pop megastar.
Don’t be afraid to evolve to stay relevant.
Your Own PR Playbook
The playbook is a large one that will take multiple years to execute, but hopefully, Taylor Swift and I have given you a great place to start.
Be authentic, become a master storyteller, build community, give back to society, be on top of crisis management, cultivate partnerships, submit for awards and recognition, engage your customers, surprise and delight, and stay relevant.
That’s how you will win.