I was lucky enough to get a ticket to see Prince in Manchester on Friday night. Having been a fan of his Purpleness forever, I couldn’t believe it when I got a tip off from a friend who’d seen something on Twitter, sent me a number which I blindly called and, oh-my-god-is-this-really-happening, got straight through. No Glastonbury-style engaged tones, repeat, repeat, repeat. A doddle, in fact.
My friends got them too – my Facebook newsfeed was soon full up with Prince-related updates, and Twitter’s generally gone into meltdown since #princewatch started.
His guerrilla gigs have surprised and delighted since he arrived in the UK a few weeks ago. Rather than play the obvious arenas, the interview-shy superstar has taken a different approach, choosing smaller, more intimate venues and only telling people about them on social media a short while before. Brixton’s was only two hours. The plan to ‘work his way up from the smallest venues’ started off playing in the living room of Lianne La Havas. It was then an ‘open’ press conference in Camden.
It’s rumoured he’s going to finish up on the Pyramid Stage on the last night of Glasto. If this happens, I’m jumping the fence. And no doubt those secret pop up whispers will spread like wildfire and have everyone running to all corners of the Somerset fields like maniacs.
The Prince PR machine has gone into overdrive and got everybody guessing and talking. It’s a clever strategy, and one that’s achieving hype like we’ve not seen in ages. But then it’s Prince. Of course there’s going to be hype.
At our gig, Chinese whispers went mental, with everyone coming to the conclusion he was going to do a second show until 4 in the morning. People hung around expectantly. A friend almost jumped in a £50 cab from Leeds in the hope of catching him after seeing false claims on Facebook. His manager also tweeted it, but then did a u-turn and just let some die hard fans in for half price during the encores.
When the show started we were also asked by the band not to use our phones. Another part of the PR magic. Not only did it improve the audience experience, it also meant people who couldn’t get tickets couldn’t see it on YouTube or Facebook - and therefore made them want to be at the party even more. Nothing worse than missing out.
Maybe it's true that the Hit And Run tour is designed to generate PR and a money-spinning festival booking to help his reported financial troubles. And so what, I say. The press coverage and more importantly, genuine word of mouth, generated by playing these small shows is far greater than what would have come from a short arena tour. The relentless teasing has paid off in its droves.
An Artist of Prince’s calibre can clearly generate a lot of public and press interest without giving much away. When you’re as cool as the purple one, it’d be easy to assume that you don’t have to try that hard. But the PR strategy around building mystery and exclusivity has been genius in increasing conversation and making more people want to get involved – and will no doubt be used as an engagement model by many an artist to follow.