6 PR takeaways from the reboot of ‘American Idol’
Are you tuning in for the return of the beloved singing competition?
First, I watched with some skepticism, but it’s winning me over. Not only
is it entertaining, but there are lessons PR pros can learn from watching
Here are six takeaways:
1. Use storytelling for the win.
Contest backstories are one of the hallmarks of “American Idol.” The
stories range from funny to touching to just plain incredible.
There are stories like the contestant whose mother traded him for a car, or
the story of the man from Compton who was faced with the choice of adopting
his sister’s baby—or allowing him to enter the foster care system.
Through these stories, we get to know the contestants and feel even more
connected to them when they sing. We want to know what happens to them and
are eager to follow their stories.
If you can include elements of storytelling in your PR efforts, including
your media pitches, articles and press releases, chances are they’ll be
2. Bring in a human element.
When “American Idol” gives viewers a glimpse into the lives of the
contestants, we see the human side. Of course, emotion wins the day.
The show’s producers understand this and hook us by humanizing the
contestants—and the judges. Who doesn’t want to tune in to see Luke Bryan
and Katy Perry pulling whoopee cushion pranks on fellow judge Lionel
Similarly, if an audiences feels an emotional connection to a brand or
product, research shows they’re at
least three times more likely to recommend the product and three timesmore likely to re-purchase it. It’s a differentiator.
Mark Schaefer, best-selling author and executive director of Schaefer
Marketing Solutions, often talks about the need for humanity in marketing.
“I feel strongly there must be some compelling human element to thatcontent,” says Schaefer. “To stand out today you must be original, and to be
original you have no choice but to bring your own story into the picture.”
If you can include the human side in your marketing and PR efforts, you’re
more likely to win over their hearts—and their wallets.
3. Include some comic relief.
In addition to showcasing the brightest talent, “American Idol” throws in a
dose of failed auditions for good measure. Viewers like to see the
performers who aren’t as successful, too. It turns out that some “singers”
aren’t as talented as they may think they are.
Try adding some humor to your communications campaigns, if it’s a fit.
Funny images or video can lighten up the messaging and can sometimes catch
on as people share them on social media.
4. There are always risks with a reboot.
If you decide to restart a program, there are always risks. To minimize
these risks, keep what works and change up the rest.
“American Idol” kept host Ryan Seacrest, but they changed up the judges to
get a better balance of criticism and warmth.
How does this translate to marketing communications? If, for example,
you’re relaunching your company newsletter, keep what readers enjoyed most
but include new content to replace what didn’t work.
5. Look for “star” quality.
On this new version of “American Idol”, the judges seem to be looking for
more than just a good voice. They’re looking for that “it” factor, a sense
of style that can take a contestant over the top.
The lesson for communicators is that in a sea of the same old type of
stories, look for the ones that stand out. Look for the story that isn’t
like all the others; one that has that edge that may be just what the
audience is craving.
6. Sometimes being “nice”—not controversial—is a breath of fresh air.
The new “American Idol” has drawn some criticism from those who miss the
acerbic Simon Cowell seasons—or the days of Mariah Carey having it out with
Nicki Minaj. However, in a time of what seems like constant conflict, maybe
giving people an alternative is exactly the right move.
“ABC’s version of American Idol doesn’t come at you like the pugnacious,
grandiose hit it used to be,” says Eric Deggans of
NPR. “But at a time when real-life events have left audiences hungry for
familiar, soothing television, this year’s model might work better than
Remember to inject some “feel good” vibes in your PR campaigns. Don’t think
that everything must be controversial to stand out.
Maybe your audience just wants to have some fun.
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