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20 February 2018

All-Black BAFTAS proves there's life in PR's oldest dog yet

Written by: Alex Eeles, Principal Writer at Edelman

Entertainment, Media

I know, let’s get a load of celebrities to wear our branded gear at a major event!

Scroll through the book of PR clichés and you’ll probably find this somewhere around 1993, tucked between champagne breakfasts with journalists and conducting an omnibus survey. Yet, it seems there’s life in the old dog yet, certainly if last weekend’s Baftas are anything to go by.

Me Too and Time’s Up are arguably the most important social campaigns of the century, seamlessly combining modern feminism with an overwhelming sense of ‘how is this only happening now?’.

As a man, I’ve watched in horror and shame as more and more of my species have been outed as anything from embarrassingly oafish to downright predatory. There’s no doubt this can and must be a watershed moment – not just for women but for society as a whole.

So, last weekend at the Baftas, the film and TV industries’ biggest stars chose to dress in black and wear Time’s Up badges, symbolising their collective support for greater respect and equality in the wake of the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal.

And while Margot Robbie and Octavia Spencer wearing black dresses at an awards ceremony isn’t quite the same as them donning a branded T-Shirt at a launch event or strategically opening a can of drink just as they go on air, it’s certainly in the same ball park. A fall back to that most hackneyed of PR tactics – the ‘branded celebrity’ – from a campaign that is anything but anachronistic.

In fact, 1993 was a gross underestimation. As far back as the 18th century, Josiah Wedgwood had cottoned on to the power of Royal endorsement for his burgeoning pottery and chinaware brand, while in 1984, a partnership with a young basketballer called Michael Jordan helped set Nike on the path to global domination.

Fast forward to today and dressing up a celeb in some branded apparel is probably the last idea any modern PR person wants to pipe up with in a brainstorm. After all, things have moved on, right? For a start, we’d now call them an influencer.

Yet if there’s one thing the recent sexual harassment scandals have taught us it’s that our world isn’t as progressive as we’d like to think. So, it feels somehow apt that at the Baftas we saw analogue PR take centre stage in a digital era.

And kudos too, because it worked. Pretty much anyone with an Internet connection or, dare I say it, newspaper will have seen images from Sunday’s show of support. And while it’s easy to dismiss the stars’ actions as trite or facile when compared to a more meaningful discussion around the crimes committed and genesis of the campaigns, that would be missing the point.

In a world of infinite content but finite attention spans, earning the chance to tell your story – your whole story – is harder than ever. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter, Me Too or your local village fete, to win the right to dig into the detail, you must first grab your audience’s attention and inspire them to hear more. And the truth is that often the best way to do that is still a powerful image.

That’s what happened at the Baftas. Now it’s time for all of us to listen.

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