From Tony Bennett to AI: Q&A with Media Relations keynoter Andrew Davis
A sneak peek into the future of PR — and the ideas to be shared at PR Daily’s Media Relations Conference from industry disruptor and keynoter Andrew Davis.
Andrew Davis is the best-selling author of “Brandscaping,” a former producer for NBC’s “Today Show” and an internationally acclaimed keynoter who speaks on marcom and media trends.
Ahead of his “The New Influence Pyramid” talk at the June 5-6 PR Daily’s Media Relations Conference in Washington, D.C., we sat with Davis to discuss everything from what communicators can learn from crooners to how to leverage tiny audiences to generate giant interest for your brand and even why AI might not be the “big fix” you had hoped or feared:
What can PR pros learn from Tony Bennett about marketing communications?
Tony Bennett found an amazing way to maintain his visibility and expand his career to newer audiences over his seven decades singing hits. His genius strategy was to recognize that if you don’t own your audience, someone else does — and to find a way to work with them.
His duets with Lady Gaga are just the latest examples. Others include his duet with John Legend (“Sing, You Sinner”), Christina Aguilera (“Steppin’ Out with My Baby”), Carrie Underwood (“It Had to Be You”) and even past luminaries like Stevie Wonder (“For Once in My Life”) and Billie Holiday (“God Bless the Child”).
It’s all about “finding your duet partner.” Look to see who you can partner with — in anything from a one-off event-driven coordinated marketing campaign to a deeper exploratory venture. Sometimes, that can include an “odd pairing” or an activation that brings you into a totally different or adjacent audience.
You’ll be talking about “going small” and to get “big media results” at our conference on June 5. Can you tease an example that will help us understand the concept?
The Stanley mega-tumblers are a great example. You’ve likely seen them everywhere. They’re all the rage and are the newest must-have item on TikTok, primarily because of one blogger and one recommendation.
In this case, it started with lifestyle blogger Kristin Jones. She and her three blogging friends essentially partnered up with Stanley to release a tumbler that had actually been canceled in the marketplace. They had a very small audience — and certainly weren’t celebrity bloggers or “influencers.” But they partnered up with Stanley to create a whole new marketplace for their tumblers.
So the takeaway is to ask yourself, “Who influences the influencers?” Your goal is to leverage the waterfall effect. Find the smallest influencer who’s influencing the largest number of people further down the chain. They may only have an audience of 5,000 — but they may also influence that one media partner. So the idea is to work with micro- or nano-influencers not just to reach all their followers — but also to reach the right one.
From a media relations perspective, there certainly are editors and journalists who get their insights from these nano-influencers. That’s who you’re trying to reach.
What’s an RAQ and how does it differ from a FAQ in your “going small to go big” model?
An RAQ or “rarely asked question” is asked by a small, highly influential group with the power to shape a purchase — or perhaps even a market. For communicators, you want to think of questions that people at the very top of “the influence pyramid” would be asking. Again, these are the people who would be asking questions that shape the market. And it’s not that these questions are never asked — they just asked by a very small percentage compared to your wider audience.
For example, a CEO should be asking, “How should I think about the future of accounting dashboards, because I want the information faster and easier.” That’s a question that’s not very often asked generally, because it’s a CEO thinking about it.
That kind of question is what’s going to shape the way the media coverage lands. It’s also going to shape the kind of content you create so you get that media coverage. And it’s also going to shape the market, because you’re going to have CEO’s asking their teams to think about accounting dashboards in this way.
Accounting might be too broad of an example, but the point still stands for a more specific question like, “Why isn’t there workwear for welders designed by women?” Sure, there might be a small audience asking that question. But the people who are asking it will shape the market and that’s the kind of coverage the media picks up on.
RAQs and their answers shape the market and point to much bigger stories. That’s what the media really wants—and understanding this in your PR and media relations is what separates you from all those “also-ran” mass pitches.
You’ve said before that “marketing is broken.” Why do you think that and how can we fix it?
I do think marketing is broken. I think we’re all looking for the next big thing when it comes to marketing and PR. We always think some silver bullet is going to change the game and make life easier. I’m not saying there aren’t technologies and media out there now that can change the game, but I just think that the fundamentals of marketing and PR are always pretty simple—and that searching for silver bullets is a dead end.
A more strategic PR approach is to focus on creative, smart ways to shape a market and increase the size of the pie — rather than looking for some new platform or tool as a panacea. Most of us just need to refocus on the fundamentals — and recognize that our biggest asset is our creativity.
How does the emergence of AI for marketing and communications purposes change that?
Again, I think it’s wrong to look at AI as a “big fix” or new approach. That said, I love AI and generative AI — I think they represent an amazing host of wonderful new tools.
But what’s missing from the tools themselves? The answer is creativity. It’s hard for generative AI to come up with truly creative, new ideas. Now, these tools can help you brainstorm and that’s great—but the truth is much of that work output is tied to mundane tasks and basic research.
We have to remember the great marketing and PR is risky marketing and PR. AI just can’t push those levers for you yet — but it can help get you there. So my advice is to experiment. That’s what I’m doing and I’m certainly not starting with the most creative, impactful tasks. Instead, I’m starting with time-saving tasks—not the strategic, creative queries that I need to think more deeply about. In that way, AI is freeing me up to spend more time on more creative, valuable and strategic work
Again, dip your toes in. Start with your most basic and boring tasks that take up the most time. Think about what you would normally hire an assistant to help with. Let those mundane, non-creative tasks go and see what happens.
Join Andrew Davis at PR Daily’s Media Relations Conference in Washington, D.C. on June 5 and 6. He’ll speak alongside communications execs from the U.S. Navy, NPR, APCO, The Obama Foundation, Mars Inc., Southwest Airlines, Raytheon, The North Face and more.