PR lessons from Weird Al Yankovic

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If you’ve seen me speak about my book, “Spin Sucks,” you know I have a fantastic case study about PR, sex and Miley Cyrus.

Sex sells (when you’re selling sex), and Miley Cyrus is a great example of how, when you sell it well, it truly works.

(I also love starting a speech with, “Let’s talk about sex,” and watching everyone’s eyes light up.)

Now I have a new brilliant PR case study to throw into the mix: Weird Al Yankovic.

Yankovic is best known for poking fun at the late Michael Jackson with the song “Eat It” sung to the tune of Jackson’s “Beat It.”

More than 30 years later, Yankovic is back in full force. This time he wanted to prove his record label—the one that told him it wouldn’t release any more of his songs—wrong.

#8Videos8Days

Yankovic’s latest album, “Mandatory Fun,” was released on July 15.

To prove his record label wrong and promote the new album, Yankovic launched #8videos8days, in which he released one music video per day for eight days.

That’s cool in and of itself, but here’s the interesting part: Yankovic partnered with one website per day, and gave each one an exclusive video. These websites included Funny or Die, The Wall Street Journal, College Humor and The Nerdist.

So, you know, that’s kind of a big deal, particularly when you consider each sites’ audiences.

There were nearly 4,000 articles (4,001 including this one) written about Yankovich in that eight-day period (I even featured “Word Crimes” a few weeks ago), which sparked more than 3 million social media shares.

Not one to get too hung up on the vanity metrics, I looked to see what else Yankovic accomplished.

Lo and behold, “Mandatory Fun” debuted at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Top 200, which was a first for Yankovic. He had more than 30 years of performing, lots of fun songs and a well-known name, but it took a traditional business telling him no for him to look at things differently and knock it out of the park.

What Yankovic did

Following is a breakdown of how Yankovic managed this:

  • Started pre-campaign buzz: On June 16, Yankovic released a teaser, “Transmission,” on his YouTube channel. After that he released three more “Transmission” videos‚—No. 2 on June 27, No. 3 on July 7 and No. 4 on July 11—to stay top-of-mind.
  • Launched #8videos8days: On July 14, the day before “Mandatory Fun” premiered, Yankovic released “Tacky,” a parody of Pharrell’s song “Happy.” It ran exclusively on The Nerdist.
  • Released “Mandatory Fun”: With the release of “Mandatory Fun” on July 15, Yankovic also released the video for “Word Crimes,” a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” (According to my husband, “Word Crimes” is my theme song because bad grammar makes me crazy.) Yankovic also participated in a Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”), which is super risky and very cool.
  • Released a video on College Humor: On July 16, Yankovic worked exclusively with College Humor to release “Foil,” a parody of “Royals.”
  • Released a video on Yahoo! Screen: On July 17, Yankovic released “Handy,” a parody of “Fancy,” with Yahoo! Screen.
  • Released a video on Funny or Die: On July 18, Yankovic released “Sports Song,” an original piece produced by the humor website.
  • Released “First World Problems”: We all joke about our “First World Problems,” and Weird Al partnered with Pop Crush to make fun of our whiny issues on July 19.
  • Released another original song:Lame Claim to Fame” came out on July 20. It’s in the style of Southern Culture on the Skids.
  • Released the last video: The final day of the brilliant PR campaign, July 21, saw the release of “Mission Statement,” another original song that pokes fun at corporate lingo. Yankovic released it on Speakeasy, a blog that lives on The Wall Street Journal.

Plus, all the songs are free, which means you don’t have to buy the album to get them. That seems counterproductive, but as Louis CK proved before Yankovic, it works.

What you can learn

About a month ago, Andy Crestodina ran a blog post run with The Guardian titled, “Search Engines Are Changing.” Setting aside the fact that it’s a guest post on one of the most remarkable sites in the world, Sean McGinnis said:

“Andy officially wins the SEO game. Whatever you or I or anyone else did today is completely invalid. Guest post on The Guardian. Link back to his own site using anchor text of ‘SEO best practices.'”

Andy was humble about it, in his typical fashion, but what he did was brilliant.

He partnered with a high-authority site to write interesting and educational content that provided a valuable link back to his site.

It’s the same thing Yankovic did with his album launch. Yankovic found the sites his audience already visits, and worked a deal with them.

He took the “Brandscaping” mantra of, “Who has your next customer as their current customer?” and exploited it—in a good way.

Think about that the next time you launch something big. Who has your next customer as their current customer? Build a partnership with that site or company and introduce your organization to new audiences.

If Weird Al can do it, so can you.

A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks. 

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