Challenge the norm to stand out….. but leave the rock n’ roll to Liam Gallagher

Written by Stewart Pimbley|22nd March 2018


Recently I was talking to a fellow PR about thought leadership and the best examples (and worst examples) of people striving to position themselves as leaders in their fields. They told me a story about a client who wanted to be viewed as leader in their particular sector and believed the best way was to

Recently I was talking to a fellow PR about thought leadership and the best examples (and worst examples) of people striving to position themselves as leaders in their fields. They told me a story about a client who wanted to be viewed as leader in their particular sector and believed the best way was to pepper their release with controversial soundbites.

The conversation went something like this:

Client: “Can you do a Liam Gallagher for us?”

PR: “What do you mean?”

Client: “Say something controversial or outrageous so we make the headlines.”

PR: “I don’t think that approach would sit well with your brand and product offering. It really wouldn’t work.”

Client: “Well what about a Donald Trump? He always makes the headlines with everything he tweets. Can’t we just make something up?”

PR: “He is the president of the USA so whatever he says will get plenty of attention. Again I really don’t think that approach is suitable for your brand.”

Controversy is great for making headlines.

When Liam Gallagher recently announced in an interview that German Police had removed his front teeth in a brawl he knew exactly that this would be the line that would be picked up. Throw in a few references to the ongoing feud with our kid and great headlines are guaranteed, a great plug for his album and tour.

Similarly the path to the White House for Donald J Trump was littered with controversial tweets and outrageous rally speeches. He said what his supporters wanted to hear (times 10) – and often forgot to include any facts.

Of course you’d expect nothing less from Messrs Gallagher and Trump.

Controversy is an extremely high risk strategy and can even backfire on those who are expert at delivering cutting one-liners. Liam’s hero John Lennon famously said: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink….We’re more popular than Jesus now.” That resulted in record burning across the States and a hastily convened press office to apologise.

The advice back to any client asking for the controversial approach has to be – be challenging rather than controversial and do it within the boundaries of your sector, market or specialism. Back it up with proven fact to demonstrate confidence in and understanding of your point of view. A well-argued challenge to the norm will position you as a thought leader. Acting as “rent a quote” will merely damage your reputation in the long term, customers will not want to be associated with you and there will be a loss of respect from your peers.

A few simple tips:

  • Understand your audience first and foremost –  think carefully about what is going to make them listen with interest.
  • You understand your field – you live and breath it so stick to what you’re best at.
  • Don’t assume everyone has the same level of understanding as you do on your chosen topic – explain your thoughts in a clear and simple manner without patronising.
  • And finally say something challenging but don’t offend just to get attention.

So you’re wondering what business the client who wanted to do a Liam Gallagher was in – apparently bathroom furniture sales. How controversial can taps and plugs be?

 

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