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This summer—and not for the first time—I put on an outfit that referenced my favorite song (Cruel Summer), and a regrettable amount of glitter that I still find in my house to this day.
I wasn’t the only one to have their summer revolve around Taylor Swift. The record-smashing Eras Tour rocked entire industries, from airlines to hospitality to Congress and even the economy at large—and literally shook the ground with an earthquake. I took away a few lessons from Taylor’s smashing success that nonprofits can apply to communications and media relations. I’ve got a few to share with you if you’re… Ready For It?
Creating a Blank Space for Excitement in Your Routine
Throughout the tour, Taylor Swift aimed to keep her fans (even those who didn’t have tickets!) engaged at every turn, which undoubtedly contributed to its success. Fans did much more than simply show up to the concert: They were also showing up online.
Each day Taylor graced the stage, you could also find an army online watching her every move on TikTok or Instagram Live. Tuning in via social media to the Eras Tour became so commonplace that there are even guides on how to find the best live stream. For the most part, the setlist, stage, outfits, and show were the same night after night, which begs the question—why were people continually tuning in?
The answer is that Taylor created space in the setlist to play two different “surprise songs” each night, offering all her fans greater anticipation and unpredictability for a “can’t miss” moment. With 50+ shows played on the first leg of the tour, she came up with a way to ensure each night was different from the one before, keeping fans engaged.
Finding creative ways to build excitement and re-engage core audiences are also, of course, part of the communications toolkit. Let’s take report releases, for example. Despite containing what you know to be groundbreaking new data and super useful takeaways for the press, it can feel tough to find new ways to engage audiences when releasing the same report year after year.
To shake it
off up for annual reports, try organizing one-on-one reporter briefings with key influential reporters and national editorial outreach to re-engage the media more thoughtfully.
Never Go Out of Style With Key Audiences
Within the music industry, there are some tried-and-true tactics for announcing and promoting a new album that usually includes social media announcements and posts, single releases, and media interviews. In recent years, we have seen artists like Beyoncé and U2 experiment with new ways to launch music. Taylor Swift continued this experimentation when she announced that she would be releasing her re-recorded and much-anticipated album “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).”
Taylor announced the album live on stage, and in the weeks leading up to the release, she used the “surprise song” part of the show as an opportunity to build excitement by playing songs from the new release. On the weekend the album was released, Taylor turned the Eras Tour into a “Speak Now” release party, incorporating extra songs from the album into the set and premiering a new music video on stage.
For nonprofits looking to engage the press, first look where you are already engaging other audiences and stakeholders. You might be surprised to find that, like Taylor, you already have great reporter-friendly messages you’re using with other core audiences. Before making a splash in the media, take a cue from “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)”—explore where your stories are already woven into the fabric of your existing audience engagement.
For example, consider looking internally! Do you have a successful internal newsletter? Are you putting a lot of time into a donor event? Or, if you have a strong social media game, consider how your social media messages could be amplified as letters to the editor, op-eds, or pitches to news reporters, podcasts, or magazines.
The M+R media relations team has had success evaluating the tools and methods of communication our clients are already using, and
Tayloring tailoring them for new approaches and press engagement. We’ve taken internal client industry updates and turned them into pitches to reporters about what trends we’re seeing in different issue areas, for example.
Knowing Your Audience All Too Well
Taylor described the Eras Tour as a journey through the many musical eras of her career and a celebration of the fans who have been there along the way. It is a testament to the amount of time Taylor has devoted to her fans and vice versa. Throughout the course of the tour, Taylor demonstrated the deep connections she has built with her fans over her career and just how in tune she is with her fans. On stage, she acknowledged the activity she saw online, whether that was joking around about the ways fans talk about her online, correcting the record on her own personal favorite albums, or telling fans to be kind to a certain famous-ex.
The Eras Tour was guided by important routines for everything from costume changes to precise dance numbers. But we really saw those special, viral moments come to life when Taylor communicated with her fans in their own voice. She showed that sometimes it is okay to drop the formalities.
For nonprofits, we find our clients often feel pressured to stick to tried-and-true structures or routines that they know will work. But taking a note from Taylor’s love story with her fans – we can ask ourselves: What is the best way to build authentic relationships with our audiences?
For a traditional press release, consider if a Zoom briefing for press might work better to build authentic relationships with reporters. How about a short and simple media advisory, or a highly tailored pitch? Consider reaching out to reporters you haven’t spoken to before by offering to meet them for coffee—no story requested—so they can build a trusting relationship with you before you pitch your next story idea. Remember, authentic relationships take time to develop but they can pay dividends in the long run.
The Eras Tour has been a display of how Taylor Swift has managed to successfully reinvent and reimagine herself time and time again. For nonprofits looking to make their media relations and communications the star of the show, take a note from Taylor: Get creative and reimagine your tactics to stay relevant and connect with stakeholders in a rapidly changing world.
Sydney Gafford is a Media Relations Associate at M+R. Clearly one of M+R’s resident Taylor Swift experts, she also supports earned media outreach, campaign implementation, and communications planning for M+R clients.