I don’t like jazz. Never have; never will. For me, it’s the musical equivalent of nails on the chalkboard. I do agree, however, with every word in Paul Shread’s column in Time, “What Can Jazz Teach Us about Business?” It’s an oldie but goodie, and I find it as relevant today as I did when it first published.
Drawing from author Frank Barrett’s book, “Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz,” Shread’s short (how very un-jazz-like of him) column summarizes several examples of how the unpredictability of and variation in jazz music can inspire us to shake up our routines, be less rigid, be OK with change and yet maintain our standards. That all sounds good and necessary to me, but since I’m not a fan of jazz (did I mention?), I’ll instead credit Shread with inspiring my post, what music can teach us about business. Specifically, in the context of public relations strategy, what can we learn from the basic structure of a three-minute pop song, for example?
Song Structure for Public Relations Strategy
First, look at the key ingredients. A hit song has an attention-grabbing intro with a strong sense of immediacy, triggering your brain to think: I like that. I want more of it. Soon. Now. (The synthesizer and bass lines that start off Duran Duran’s early-80s classic “Rio” come to mind as a perfect intro.) A smash song also needs a hook-driven verse (think “Let’s Go” by The Cars), setting the stage for the big payoff that’s to come: the crescendo chorus (a la “King of Pain” by The Police) that’s just impossible to forget. Also, the best songs often have a surprising bridge that changes the pace and shakes things up, but is really just another set-up for that killer chorus you’re not going to be able to get out of your head for a day, a week, or perhaps even a lifetime. (I bet there’s a song or two you can’t erase from the old memory bank that you wish you could. “Ice, Ice Baby,” anyone? If you can get that one out of my head, call me. I’ll pay.)
PR pros, try to see a memorable pop song through the lens of a communications approach and or campaign strategy. Even though the typical radio-ready hit is only about three or four minutes long, what does it reflect? It reflects a PR program that gets off to a strong start (intro), offers steady and consistent progress (verse), and pushes toward a series of big wins (chorus) spread out over time to maximize impact. This simplistic “song structure” approach to outlining a program or campaign also builds in flexibility (bridge), reflecting a capacity to shift on the fly when circumstances change or opportunities arise. And as with any good song, it ends on a high note, perhaps leading seamlessly into the next “track” (program year two sound good to anyone?).
Would you ever mirror your public relations strategy structure after a song? If you do, make sure it’s a good one. And, please, no jazz.