Garth Brooks: 5 PR Lessons

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently (or trying to hide under one to escape the repetitive news stories) you’ll know that there’s a “Garth Brooks Fiasco” making waves across Ireland, and further beyond. Whether you like him or loathe him, GB is one of the biggest names in Country music worldwide and so it was no surprise that after a long hiatus from touring, the announcement of a series of one-off “comeback” shows in little ol’ Dublin of all places, created pandemonium as fans across the Globe fought to get tickets and then pay through the nose for associated travel arrangements and limited hotel rooms.

And then it all dissolved before our eyes a mere few weeks before the first of an unprecedented 5 gig sell-out set. As a disclaimer notice, I should say here that I am a huge Garth Brooks fan (don’t judge me). I did have tickets to the Sunday night shows but am actually glad of the refund because I couldn’t go in the end and was trying to sell my seats on. I also live beside a stadium of sorts in Northern Ireland, so I feel the residents’ pain. In that sense, I’m about as middle ground as one person can be on the whole issue.

So what PR lessons can we take from the events of the last 2 weeks?

Keep things in perspective, or face the repercussions

There is no doubt that this is a big news stories and worthy of much of its coverage, as the “numbers” photo posted by Irish online magazine shows. Even if you’re not a Garth Brooks fan you can appreciate the various aspects of the story that would be considered in the public’s best interest to highlight, such as:

- consumer rights issues around ticket refunds and associated travel costs
- the clear failings of the licensing system which this story has only now brought to light
- continued issues between the GAA and it’s community relations strategy with stadium residents

However the escalation of reaction, from politicians in particular, only lead to the ridicule mob turning their attention on them instead. And rightly so when you really digest the most quoted remarks such as Dublin’s Lord Mayor Christy Burke claiming that the Good Friday Agreement was easier to sort out and comparing the concert cancellations as “like a funeral without a corpse.” Yes, really. This type of over-reaction only fuels the cynical memes which then causes further hurt to those genuinely affected financially and emotionally by the turn of events. As per the old adage, if you don’t have anything good to say…

If you don’t make your feelings heard, people will fill in the gaps

Throughout this debacle, the main man himself has kept relatively quiet. No doubt, there was plenty of talking going on behind the scenes as all involved parties desperately tried to rescue what threatened to be arguably the biggest disaster the local entertainment scene has ever seen. The first time he made his reaction public, it was misinterpreted by many, as he made a comparison between his fans and his children as reason for the “five or none” ultimatum. So it was no surprise that a supposed “leaked” email statement from GB to Aiken surfaced this week with 2 implicit messages in it to address specific critique the artist had received - namely that he wasn’t threatening the organisers, but rather he was desperate to find a solution to ensure fair treatment for his fans while also reiterating that he was not in control of the situation and shared in the sadness expressed by others. I’m not saying the leak is a publicity stunt, but I also don’t believe that in this time-tight money-at-stake situation, the 2 main men are communicating via email.

Want to show yourself to be witty and keep your public profile high? Jump on the bandwagon!

A lá Richard Haas, the international mediator who sadly left us when our politicians couldn’t even agree to disagree not that long ago. His timely tweet was the right mix of humour and genuine contribution to the debate, coming coincidently (or not) on the same day the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that he wanted the diplomat to return to Northern Ireland to sort us out (or words to that effect).

Brands can jump on the bandwagon for bad news as well as good

We’ve seen plenty of World Cup brand-jacking and it’s become the new thing for gaining social media momentum through sharing by showing your brand’s “fun” personality. It doesn’t often work well to cash in on people’s feelings of despair (see my previous post all about social media corporate fails). However, in this instance, where no lives have been lost and an eruption of memes mocking the reaction to the event have already started doing the rounds, a few brands can carefully tread the line between humour and sensitivity when it aligns to a fun, local product or service. Just like HB Ice Cream, yum…

Front-page dominating stories are a great time to bury bad news

Like the Belfast City Council strike today, which affects everything from bin collections and leisure centre opening times, to the crematoriums and one of our largest visitor attractions; the Zoo. I only happened across knowledge of it through a link on social media. This clearly bi-passed all my neighbours, who seemed none the wiser as I passed their black bins out on the street for collection this morning. The timing may be a sheer coincidence but there’s no arguing it’s worked out great for the Council, but probably not so great for the workers who may have been hoping for enough column inches and debate to explain their industrial action fully and gather support for their campaign.

As for me and Garth’s relationship? I’m still wailing like a banshee to his heartache-riddled country anthems in the car and despite my disappointment at not seeing him live, I feel bad for the Stetson-adorned-singer. He’s much too young to feel this damn old (ba doom boom!)