Paul McCartney PR: Stories to (Twist and) Shout About
Sir Paul McCartney is no stranger to the media. After all, the Liverpudlian born singer-songwriter is one quarter of (arguably) the biggest and most influential rock n’ roll bands of all time.
But while the Beatles shot him to stardom and made him a household name, they split up over 50 years ago. He went on to see further success with Paul McCartney and Wings and then launched a successful solo career that’s still going strong today.
You don’t enjoy a career spanning more than 60 years (and counting) in the music industry without mastering the art of PR. So, what’s his secret? How has Macca maintained his reputation and stayed relevant after so long in the public eye?
Let’s take a look at three Paul McCartney PR events from the last 20 years and see what we can learn from them.
Paul McCartney PR 1: ‘It wasn’t me’
Paul McCartney is often blamed for the breakup of The Beatles, due to his ambiguous comments about the band’s future in 1970 and his decision to take legal action against Lennon, Harrison and Starr that same year.
Read about the reasons for the lawsuit in this RadioX article.
Fast forward 51 years, and in a 2021 interview with John Wilson for the BBC Radio 4 series, This Cultural Life, Sir Paul dropped a bombshell when asked about his decision to go solo and break up The Beatles: ‘Stop right there. I am not the person who instigated the split. Oh no, no, no. John walked into a room one day and said “I am leaving the Beatles”. Is that instigating the split or not?’
This came a few weeks before the premiere of the Peter Jackson documentary, The Beatles: Get Back – a three-part series documenting the final days of the band as they recorded their album, Let it Be.
Getting ahead of the headlines
McCartney’s revelation was big news. Magazines, newspapers and radio stations jumped on the story and suddenly, everyone was talking about Paul McCartney. It put him at the forefront of the conversation at a time when the past was going to be revisited and old wounds opened.
Perfect timing wouldn’t you say? The series would certainly renew conversations about what Vanessa Thorpe refers to as ‘the most analysed break-up in rock history’ in her 2021 Observer article.
Macca played a PR blinder by turning the narrative in his favour before the public had the opportunity to formulate their opinions on the events shown in the documentary.
That’s smart PR.
It’s important to be aware of conversations happening around your brand, so you can prepare and plan your PR strategies. This is especially important in instances where your brand could be negatively impacted.
Getting ahead of a (potentially) damaging story gives you time and space to take a sad song and make it better. Ahem.
However, it’s not all about keeping the doom and gloom at bay. You can capitalise on the good stuff too. If people are discussing your brand in a positive manner, take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank them for speaking words of wisdom. (Ok, we’ll stop now.)
As Hootsuite’s Christina Newberry writes: ‘If you don’t have a social listening strategy in place, you’re missing out on some of the most valuable data available to help build your business.’
With social media, you have the ability to monitor brand mentions with ease. So, make sure you’re listening and leverage what’s being said to inform your PR strategy. Listening is PR 101.
Want to know more about the power of brand narrative? Read: Disney PR: How the House of Mouse Took Over the World.
Paul McCartney PR 2: Help! From the modern celebs
When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone
I’m not so self-assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind
And opened up the doors
These are the actual words spoken by Paul when he called up James Corden and asked if he could appear on his Late Late Show in the Carpool Karaoke segment.
Not really, but we like to think that’s how it went down.
Nevertheless, this leads us nicely on to the second PR masterstroke that Mr McCartney has pulled off in recent years: Getting ‘down’ with the cool kids.
Time waits for no man
It’s a sad fact of life, that, no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or how influential you’ve been to modern art and culture, somewhere down the line a generation is born that grows up blissfully ignorant of your existence.
Macca, for all his success and accolades, is not immune to this. Yes, that’s right: there are people on this planet who don’t know who Sir Paul McCartney is.
As Will Burns said in his 2018 Forbes article, ‘McCartney only has one weakness and it’s not even his fault. He’s not even mildly famous with the under-30 crowd. Many twenty-somethings don’t even know who he is.’
Ticket to ride
So how does someone as famous and universally adored as Sir Paul resolve the issue? He collaborates with celebrities who are down with the youngsters – like the Late Late Show host, James Corden.
Corden was delighted when Macca agreed to appear on his hugely popular Carpool Karaoke segment, in 2018. McCartney’s appearance premiered on The Late Late Show’s YouTube channel and has been viewed over 64 million times since. That’s a lot of youthful eyes and ears that have seen Sir Paul singing in a car. And that’s a lot of young people who now know who Sir Paul McCartney is. No wonder he got the invite to headline Glastonbury in 2022.
And to think that McCartney nearly pulled out of the segment.
This was a definite win for the Paul McCartney PR machine.
Nothing stays the same in the business world. Things change all the time. Young entrepreneurs come along with new ideas and new ways of doing things that shake up the marketplace.
The longer you’re in business, the more names and trends you’ll see come and go. It’s those who are able and willing to adapt that thrive. In other words, being open to trying new things, innovating and being disruptive is key to success.
Take Bitcoin. In 2018, the digital currency brand launched a protest against itself outside the Consensus Blockchain Conference in NYC. Protesting against your own company is not the usual way to do PR, but it worked a treat. The disruptive nature of the PR stunt resulted in lots of press attention, which is exactly what the brand wanted.
While you don’t need to pull off some wild and wonderful PR stunt to get noticed, it’s worth noting that consumers say innovation is an important factor in their brand preference, and they’re willing to pay more for a brand they consider innovative.
As the saying goes, ‘you miss 100% of the opportunities you don’t take’.
So, if, like McCartney, you’re looking to reach a younger demographic, take a chance and put your business on YouTube, even if you think it’s full of 18-year-olds that won’t dig what you do.
YouTube can extend the reach of your promotional messages exponentially to a captive audience, in an engaging and interactive way.
Want to learn more about the importance of adapting and diversification? Read: Coca-Cola PR Magic: How to Stay on Top for Over a 100 Years.
Paul McCartney PR event 3: Kanye hear me out there?
Question: What’s the best way for a renowned musician to get press attention?
Answer: Release music.
And release music he has. Lots of it.
In the course of his career, Macca has released a whopping 26 studio albums, four compilation albums, nine live albums, 37 video albums, two extended plays, 111 singles, seven classical albums, five electronica albums, 17 box sets, and 79 music videos.
With each new release comes publicity in the form of newspaper interviews, chat show appearances, performances on national radio and a variety of other opportunities to be seen and heard by millions.
That’s easy PR right there.
But what about those under 30s we mentioned earlier? Sir Paul has that covered too.
Get by with a little help from my friends
Not only has McCartney released a ton of music in the last 20 years or so, he’s also collaborated with some of the 21st century’s biggest stars, including Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kanye West.
The Kanye collaboration may not have been the most conventional get-together, as highlighted by Joe Taysom in a 2021 Far Out Magazine article, but it certainly put McCartney in front of an audience that would otherwise have never paid him any attention.
Collaboration is key to growth. In business you’re always collaborating, whether it be with your employees, colleagues, clients, suppliers, or the media.
It can be daunting though, to collaborate with young entrepreneurs moving into your space. It’s hard to let go and freely embrace unfamiliar territory. But nothing worth doing is easy.
Partnering with the new kids on the block can have a positive impact and bring about significant changes that give your business a new lease of life.
A hard day’s night
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Paul McCartney has never put a foot wrong. I mean, he does seem to stay on people’s good side. But everyone falls foul of the press at some point, right?
So, in the interest of fairness, let’s look at some of the ‘not so good’ Paul McCartney PR stories from the last two decades.
The long and winding road
The most notable PR difficulty in Macca’s history was his infamous divorce from Heather Mills that played out in front of the nation in the tabloids.
During the two-year divorce process, Mills made a number of accusations about Paul and their relationship, as explained by Mabale Moloi in her 2021 article for AmoMama.
Despite the scathing attack, Heather actually came across in a more negative light than McCartney. As this report by Ailbhe MacMahon in the Daily Star says at the conclusion of the process, the judge described McCartney’s evidence as ‘balanced’ before adding that the same could not be said about Mills’ evidence.
So, McCartney didn’t suffer a huge blow to his reputation. But that’s not to say that his personal life being aired publicly benefited him. This is the kind of publicity he would happily have done without.
Let it be … or not
Another public feud occurred in 2016 (albeit not as dramatic) when Phil Collins recounted a disappointing encounter with Sir Paul that left a bad taste in his mouth for 14 years.
Su Yeniocak recounts Phil’s comments in her 2021 Rock Celebrities article: ‘The Reason Genesis’ Phil Collins Secretly Hated Paul McCartney‘: ‘I met him when I was working at the Buckingham Palace party back in 2002. McCartney came up with Heather Mills, and I had a first edition of ‘The Beatles,’ by Hunter Davies. I said, ‘Hey, Paul, do you mind signing this for me?’ And he said, “Oh, Heather, our little Phil’s a bit of a Beatles fan.’ And I thought, ‘You f*ck, you f*ck.” Never forgot it.’
These comments were picked up by the British press and blown out of proportion. Stories appeared in the likes of NME about the rock legend’s ‘long-lasting feud’.
Thankfully, this didn’t have a lasting negative impact on McCartney’s personal brand, but it didn’t shine a positive light on him either.
McCartney laughed off the reports of a feud, but if the media takes something you say and turns it into something it’s not, how should you respond?
It depends on how serious the misinformation is. If you deem it to be potentially damaging to your reputation, it’s important to correct it. You can do this by publishing a response on your website or blog. But be mindful of how you respond. Here are a few pointers:
- Respond quickly: It’s important to get your position on the issue understood immediately. If you don’t, you’ll open your brand up to criticism and more misinformation.
- Don’t be defensive: Coming off as defensive is not going to do you any favours. Keep emotion out of your response by focusing on the facts.
- Highlight the positives: Your best bet is to fight fire with fire by reinforcing your brand values, and reminding consumers what you stand for, and what you don’t stand for.
Want more advice on responding to fake news? Read: Fighting Fake News with Positive PR
With love from me to you
That’s a round-up of the best Paul McCartney PR moments from the last 20 years. So, what have we learned?
- He knows how to tell a story and work the narrative to his advantage
- He’s not afraid to take risks and try new things
- He’s open to collaboration
- He tackles adversity with dignity and a cool head
And let’s not forget: he’s a great songwriter, an exceptionally talented musician and by all accounts, a genuinely nice guy. One particularly flattering description came from Annie Zaleski from Salon magazine, who referred to him as ‘a benevolent grandpa, whose continued presence in the world feels like a gift’.
A winning PR package.