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3 PR Lessons from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

A peek at the induction ceremony red carpet.

I had the experience of a lifetime last weekend when I attended the 37th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Los Angeles. The show was an '80s love fest, featuring Gen X favorites Duran Duran (my personal obsession), Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo, Eurythmics, Lionel Ritchie and more. I was over the moon to be there (spoiler alert: the show was incredible), and I have to admit my day job didn't enter my mind over the weekend, but upon reflection, the event taught several PR lessons we should take to heart:

Know Your Audience: When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame first announced its nominees earlier this year, Dolly Parton politely declined the nomination, saying that she didn't feel she was of the rock and roll genre and hadn't earned the right to be nominated. The Hall kept her on the list anyway and she was named an inductee. At the induction ceremony, Dolly knew her audience. She changed into a black leather outfit, carried an electric guitar and performed a special rock song she wrote specially for the event. She didn't change a thing in the world about being Dolly, but she aligned her brand to reflect her host and audience that night. Brilliant.

Deliver Bad News Appropriately: Duran Duran won the fan vote this year, with just under one million votes clamoring for the Hall to include the band in this year's class. Hundreds, if not thousands, of the voters were in the audience that night, and one reason for their excitement was the expectation of a promised reunion performance with the original five members. Unfortunately, the band was forced to deliver unbearable news - that their original guitarist, Andy Taylor, was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer years ago (unbeknownst to the public) and had suffered a recent setback, preventing him from attending. Lead singer Simon LeBon shared the news by reading a letter from Taylor as a part of their acceptance speeches. As he read the letter there were gasps - and tears - in the audience. The news could have derailed the event and had the potential to garner much criticism if handled indelicately. The timing, the tone and the content of the delivery were perfect. The members of Duran Duran were visibly upset while appropriately celebratory and grateful. We will all have to deliver bad news at some point, and the band delivered a masterclass in doing so that night.

Remember the Power of Storytelling: The star power at the induction ceremony was immense. The inductees' accomplishments are beyond question. And yet the stories are what we will most remember. How Elizabeth Cotten worked as a domestic when her unearthly ability to play a six-string upside down led to her first record at age 62. Janet Jackson's story of Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam listening to her and turning her thoughts and ideas into lyrics for the 1986 Control album. The love story of Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo. The stories added to the richness of the event and redefined how we look at the performers and the industry; it deepened our connection to the Hall and its artists.

Proof that we were there!

I will be the first to admit my being at the induction ceremony was 100% about fun and I wasn't looking for professional inspiration. However, I did find myself noticing those instances where messaging and its impacts had clearly been thought through and planned for - and those where there was a breakdown in communication. As they say, there's a lesson to be learned in every situation! Kudos to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for an amazing event (be sure to watch the ceremony on November 19 on HBO Max), congratulations to all of the inductees, and long live rock!


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