Hit ‘N’ Run: Prince & The PR Power Of Guerilla Gigging by @Gaz_Griff

With what is thought by many as being the final gig of Prince’s current run of impromptu UK dates having taken place on Saturday night in Manchester, I thought it was time to take a look back at the past 3 weeks of PuRe genius that has been the ‘Hit N Run’ tour.

What’s more, as I write this Prince’s manager has just tweeted a photo of his a cane, The Sunday Times and an aeroplane window – so what follows seems to be confirmed to some degree or another…

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Whilst it is still unclear whether or not there was an alternative agenda to this tour, with a new album on the way, a rumoured Glastonbury headline slot and Hyde Park dates, did Prince and Purple Management just pull off one hell of a PR stunt? The press coverage generated by playing these small shows is far greater than what would have come from a short arena tour, why is that?

Firstly Prince and the Purple team are brilliant at teasing. It’s been a carnival of tease. Rumours had been circulating for months that Prince and his new band 3RDEYEGIRL were headed to the UK for a series of dates and during January it was confirmed that he was headed for London, perhaps to

play some shows. Beginning with a press-conference at, London songstress, Lianne La Havas’ flat.

On the date that Prince was said to be arriving, Channel 4 News airs a segment on him which in effect announces nothing, rather musician turned presenter, and Boya Dee spends a good while scouring East London for him. An Artist of Prince’s calibre can clearly generate a lot of public and press interest without giving much, or indeed any information away. When the press conference does eventually occur, there are very few members of the media actually present.

Prince and his band played an acoustic set at Lianne’s house and discussed some of the intentions of his visit, although very little information ever actually gets out. Straight away what is introduced here is the idea of mystery and exclusivity.  We don’t actually find out that the conference was going ahead until after it’s taken place and at this point it’s announced that Prince is playing a Press-Only “open sound-check”. Bits of what was discussed at the press-conference begin to surface, notably Prince was quoted saying that the tour was “open-ended”.

The sound-check takes place at midnight, in front of just a couple of hundred people at Camden’s Electric Ballroom, so heavily covered by press and yet the cost was very low. At the end of the show it’s revealed that Prince is playing at the venue the following night and with that press and public are hooked. With very little notice Prince has created frenzy.

Fans then begin queueing from early in the morning, the queues itself merited press coverage with free food paid for by Prince and purple umbrellas supplied by Zoopla, all fuelling the excitement of the story. Prince not only ends up playing two shows to cater for the demand and queue size but also charges just £10 for each.

Having played two great shows that night things go silent on Prince’s side but positive press and ecstatic fan gossip continues. Always leave them wanting more.

I made the decision that weekend to travel down to London in case a show was announced. I stayed from Friday to Sunday and on the day I was due to leave BOOM! His band make an announcement on BBC6 Music, I think it is important that he doesn’t show up here to maintain and intensify the vibe and hysteria, that they’ll be playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire that very night.

Prince had previously stated that he wanted to charge around £10 for these shows but when I get there I discover that the ticket price is £70. The ensuing fans protest, I feel, ultimately plays to their advantage with a group of them starting a twitter hash tag #10POUNDPRINCE pleading for the ticket price to be lowered. Then, just before the doors open, it is decided that the price will be dropped to £10, although at drastic cost to the show – with further news as a result.

When the show started we were asked by his band not to film or take photos, this request occurred at all the shows, this is all part of the magic. Not only does this improve the audience experience, and no doubt the experience of the band but what it affects outside of the venue is very interesting. The internet following of these shows is already at a high level, but these people who have yet been able to attend have just incredibly good reviews, a couple of pro-shot videos released by the band themselves and a few negligible YouTube clips from disobedient audience members. The tease continues and increases because of this. There is an exclusive experience going on at each of these shows and the window left open for those unable to be there is very small, but they’d stand on tip-toes to peak through it.

It is at this point that I’d like to discuss then the power of the secret show and guerrilla gigging. This gigging technique works best with rock and pop music, sorry to generalise here much as it kills me but audiences of these genres tend to want to get closer to the artists, rather than the dance music’s where the attention is on the beat. This is represented nicely by observing audiences for both genres. Rock audiences are forward facing often involving some crushing towards the stage compared to dance audiences who are focused moving to the beat, dancing in groups, individually or as a whole. The significance of this is firstly that because demand is high so a high amount of people of following the details of the show. Secondly when Prince announces “small shows” the demand is very high, fans want an intimate experience with an idol. An opportunity to get closer. The people who attend these gigs leave with a stronger reaction to the experience of a small gig such as this than an arena show. You in affect turn this audience into a street-team who deliver strong, sustained word-of-mouth marketing.

For many it may even come as a surprise that, in a heavily saturated world of social media, word-of-mouth can still be successful but the response, mainly on twitter to these shows offers evidence to the contrary. With constant updates by fans, rumours left right and centre, review after review after review the buzz is intense and the kind of publicity is invaluable. Furthermore people are far more likely to trust the opinion of someone they know rather than that of a journalist so for these performances to generate such a response from audience members are compelled to share is also marketing that cannot be bought.

The following weeks provided several very contrasting performances from 3 shows at London’s KOKO, with similar length and format to the Shepherds Bush gig, to an acoustic and Q&A and a couple of gigs in a jazz club. These performances became more and more unique and more “exclusive” with lower audience capacities; the way in which the mystery is sustained is extraordinary. In his final week of gigging, he and the band make an appearance at the Brits to present an award. It shouldn’t really then be so surprising that this stage of the project was coming to an end, as he breaks cover and reveals himself by appearing on live television.

If this was a PR stunt Prince could not simply play shows on an “open-ended” basis, he has/they have managed to associate his performances with the idea of the exclusive. Many will feel they don’t have a chance of seeing him now and are truly disappointed. They are sold on him and seeing him. There has to be some kind of pay-off. These rumours have to be true, that he will be coming back for the summer, in 3 weeks they have managed to dramatically increase potential audience members, nationally. This summer could be a purple one. Alternatively, if I’m wrong, of course it could all have been just for the hell of it. In which case hats off to Prince, not many acts near his magnitude that can do as they please in quite the same way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gareth Griffiths is a Popular Music graduate who writes and performs in his band, Institutes. Currently working in Marketing, he also writes music articles for The Bizz Niz and blog pieces.

He tweets from @Gaz_Griff

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