Yesterday, Taylor Swift wrote a letter (almost certainly looked over my an attorney or seven), posted on Tumblr, to Apple over Apple Music failing to pay artists royalties for the first three month trial. Apple, a few hours later, agreed to roll over and pay said royalties after all. In what is either a power move by Taylor Swift, one of American music's most powerful figures or a calculated PR stunt between Swift and Apple, the media has been taken by storm. Twitter is full of insipid "Taylor Swift should send a letter to X" jokes, and by end of day we will be beset by empty PR "takes" about what we can "learn" from Taylor Swift. Here's the honest truth.
1) You And Your Client Are Not Taylor Swift
I hate to break it to you, but your client is not Taylor Swift, or anyone of Swift's presence. They do not have the clout, the following, the years of global popularity that she does, nor the diversity in following. She has platinum albums and a huge social presence. In the same way you would not compare an ant to an SUV, you should not consider yourselves relevant to each other.
2) Apple And Big Companies Don't Care About You
I know. You're revolutionary. You're amazing. You've changed everything. You're a master of your art. You're penning a letter to a big company to call for change, and this seems like a really great way to get press. Here's the litmus test: If you have to pitch that you've written this letter to the press, you're not important enough to get attention.
3) If You're A PR Person, You Can't Learn Anything About PR From Taylor Swift
I really do mean that. You aren't going to. She is a superstar. You are not a superstar. What she does does not count in the same realities as your client or your agency. She is a celebrity. Any amorphous blob of what you can learn from Taylor Swift advice you get is usually an aberration of basic common sense - speak to audience, know them, etc. - versus actual, useful things. Most things that have made Taylor Swift famous were before social media or "digital PR" was immensely important - she was 14 when she got a record deal with RCA. This wasn't because of social presence or audience. And if you somehow twist this into a "have hustle" piece of advice, you're more desperate than useful.
4) This Situation Got A Lot Of Media Attention Because It's Apple And Taylor Swift - Already Famous Things Sell
Two things that almost always get written about no matter what they do, it's Taylor Swift and Apple. Imagine combining those things into one situation? We just did, and it's got a lot of media attention. This is the only real lesson to learn here: already popular things tend to get coverage automatically. For example, this excessively desperate and slightly depressing Medium post by a HipChat/Atlassian product designer was bandied about by PR people as a "sign of Slack's excellent PR machine." They missed the (well-realized) point - Slack got media attention through a charming CEO who co-founded Flickr and had Marc Andreessen on his side. Slack is a great product (and my personal feelings about HipChat aside), but there was certainly a hint of "guy who already did a thing we like is backed by guy we write about already."
5) Your Company/Client Also Isn't Apple
Hot takes suggesting this is a weakness on Apple's side are simply incorrect. The millions they'll spend for the three months of revenue will both gain them favor with the pop princess and media attention about their service that, somehow, is positive. Your company rolling out a new feature that's "great for users" is not the same thing, even if it's something someone complains about. Apple can do whatever they want, really. They can get press for making a tweet. Heck, they can get press for doing something wrong, and then get good press for fixing it. Your company will require pitching to the right person about the right thing to get even a glint of an Apple rumor's press fever, and if you mess up. Sorry.
6) Learn From Experience Not From The Popular or Platitudinal
If you sit down and google "PR lessons from" you can find lessons from just anything, ranging from Mr. T to David Letterman to Game of Thrones. People are desperate, especially in marketing and public relations, to drag lessons (for both a feeling of relevance to popular culture and click-bait) from things that have nothing to do with them. What you should actually do is read a book, or perhaps speak to someone good at what they do, over seeking to sift gold from the pool of celebrity-dome to succeed. This also, I hate to say, includes the many entrepreneurial blogs that are simply lists of platitudes and statistics. Seek the advice of those who bleed their sadness and failures so that you can see what made them win once again.
7) Calculated Risk Is Really Just Rigging The Dice
In the last few hours I have seen many, many tweets from PR "professionals" claiming that they're "inspired" by Taylor Swift's actions. There's nothing wrong with inspiration, but these were at times followed by the "things they'd learned" from her. That she was called brave for her actions was, well, laughable considering she even in her own letter admitted she said "this is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows." This wasn't something that would have ended up with Apple pulling her albums or blacklisting her. This was a borderline risk-free blog dropped on a Sunday that went very well for her. It was a masterful work - one created with skill, grace and clever wordplay, knowing that her immense fame and almost total lack of risk would mean this could only go well. Your decision-making should be done in the same way. Furthermore, you should know that poking a giant company with a sharp stick could go very wrong for you if you don't have Swift's popularity.