Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Public Relations: Not just Trust & Measurement, but Art as well

In Ideas on May 6, 2009 at 10:54 am

It would be fair to define the goal of public relations as building an emotional connection between consumers and a brand. Certainly not the only definition, maybe not even the most accurate, but not off base either. 

If we are being honest, a lot of PR fails by this definition. You know the type of PR I’m talking about: the crass, the short-sighted, the inelegant and certainly the forgettable.  At the other end of the spectrum are the efforts that do create an emotional reaction: that of shock. For instance, think about a lot of what PETA does.

But I’m thinking of a different type of emotion. The type that is perhaps the most powerful, and possibly the least utilized by PR – the emotions generated by the beauty of art. Art, in all its forms and by the broadest of definitions, stirs the passions and elicits emotions like nothing else – with the possible exception of love, and that’s the subject of much of the best art.


Think of the powerful emotional connections people have to music. Now, this is subjective of course, but I’m not talking about Britney Spears or Wang Chung or throw-away ’60s pop or even Tin Pan Alley. Nothing wrong with that sort of thing, but I’m speaking of the soul-touching stuff: Gustav Mahler, John Coltrane or even The Smiths. Music that haunts you. Music that when you hear it 20 years later, you can remember exactly where you were the first time you heard it. Ad agencies have used music of course, be it the use of songs by popular artists like Moby, or jingles like this one:

Visual Arts 

Behold the power of awe-inspiring art

Behold the power of awe-inspiring art

The power of visual art is undeniable, yet it’s often manifested as “let’s get a famous contemporary artist to ‘re-imagine’ our product package.” I’m talking about the humility one feels when looking at the sheer brilliance of the Sistine Chapel, or the fierce emotion, bordering on madness, evident in the works of Goya.  Visual arts have been used for centuries to communicate and comment upon some of the most emotionally charged issues in the history of man. Yet, I don’t know that PR has figured out how to leverage that power and intensity. Art in PR is a logo.

Rather than mere product shots, what if instead PR worked with artists like Christo? Not in a The Gates, presented by Brand X sort of way, but rather what if a brand, and in this case ING would have made great sense, commissioned The Gates. Their gift to the city.

The Written Word

For hundreds of years writers have been able to move people to action – whether it be for political or social causes. Then there are books like The Catcher in the Rye that have so perfectly captured the emotions of a certain part of life that it remains relevant decades after it was published. Yet, the PR industry just keeps churning out press releases.  Consumers don’t want a itemized list of hyperbole and industry jargon, they want a story that captures their imagination

The Moving Image

I believe PR is capable of more than dancing eyebrows and digitally enhanced sheep herding. I think PR is capable of harnessing:


PR does cute well, sometimes even funny, but rarely does PR do heart-stopping.

A few weeks ago I wrote about content marketing and I think this sits on top of that notion. What sort of content are you marketing? Are you pushing paper as quickly as you can, generating content that won’t be remembered by the end of the week, or are you creating content that people will remember and share?

Take a look at this video by James Jarvis:

Creative, memorable and yes, beautiful.  It renews my faith in humanity, and with nary a Nike swoosh in site, it makes me feel really good about that brand. It means something to me that Nike is willing to support such artistic endeavors.

What was the most memorable image of 2008? It was a piece of art:


Maybe the PR industry just accepted that ‘creative’ of this level was the domain of the advertising industry. I don’t buy that. Public Relations is about making an emotional connection between brand and consumer – that’s exactly what that video did for me and what the Obama – Shepard Fairey poster did for millions.

What if, instead of hiring a celebrity spokesperson for one day of their time, you spent the same amount of money on commissioning a piece of music or art. Not paying for the rights to use a Rolling Stones tune, or having Paris Hilton ‘design’ a handbag, but real art, by real artists. What if, instead of another press release that nobody wants to read, you engaged a novelist to write a short story about your product? Forget about quality, the sheer novelty of that approach would be memorable enough.

We are currently at a moment in time when the PR industry has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine itself. Brian Solis has written about putting the “public” back in public relations (review coming soon) and he is absolutely write. But I think we can do more than simply have conversations with our consumers, I think we can inspire them.

I’d be interested in what you think. I don’t have the answers, I just hope you find my questions worth discussing. Please, by all means, leave comments here, but I hope you’ll keep this conversation going on your on sites as well.

  1. Rick, enjoyed that post. We recently did a PR book around our design contest on What is your take on online design contests in general as well?

  2. I tend to like them. I think design, like many other industries, got a bit incestuous. Opening things up brings in a lot of junk, but it can also unearth some unexpected gems.

  3. Brilliant, for years I’ve struggle working in-house and in Agency’s with trying to break free of the stereotypes that people both inside and outside PR have. Your post eloquently explains my views better than I have ever been able to. Thanks for posting this.

  4. That’s good stuff, thanks for sharing Charles.

  5. I think this is a very forward-thinking post. Many people are pushing SEO and gaining traffic and volume to a particular website. They stress having great content with a ton of well-researched keywords. Done and Done. Now what?
    I think art/graphs/pictures are a great way to engage readers and their feelings. Mike Arauz ( does a great job at this. This post speaks to a better goal: making a connection with an audience and getting them to read toward the last line, to comment and interact, to feel.

  6. I can’t tell you how much this post resonates with me! As the owner of Studio 4 PR, a new business that helps “creative types and kitchen table entrepreneurs break out of their shells”, I practically leapt with joy when I saw you make this insightful connection. When I was researching my business, I found very few PR companies that specialized in artists. I look forward to reading more…and learning more from you.

  7. […] I’m chewing on this short film  was directed by Azazel Jacobs at Taxi for  MOMA’s Multimedia channel and by  a post over at Eyecube called Public Relations: Not just Trust & Measurement, but Art as well […]

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