Prior to mid 1963, no one in the United States knew who the four men from Liverpool, England were. When CBS distributed a press release in early February of 1964 announcing the Beatles’ arrival in the States and their plan to perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” airing February 9,1964, it came across as one of the most understated press announcements of all time. Six sentences long, the release simply stated the band’s agreement to make three successive Sullivan show appearances. It lacked the excitement traditionally found in entertainment press materials; however, it was able to engage 73 million Americans to sit down on a Sunday night and watch “Beatlemania” come to the U.S., a phenomenon that remains unrivaled to this day. The question remains, how?
During the days of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the single television screen was able to acquire the attention of 40% of the United States population. Today, we live in a world where multiple screens have become accessible to us, giving us various outlets through which to catch up on all things, from news, to sports, to entertainment. For example, the 2012 Super Bowl, which was the most watched event in U.S. television history, had 111.5 million people tuning in to watch, but that was still only about 35% of the U.S. population. People would much rather catch up on their own time via their cell phones, computers, and tablets, than set aside a few hours to watch a spectacle live. This preference makes the jobs of PR specialists everywhere much harder.
If the same press release that CBS had distributed fifty years ago were circulated today, it would likely be lost in the clutter. It worked in 1964 because the population only had one shot to view these four lads for the first time on television screens, rather than record it and let it sit in their TiVO for months to come. It was also released only four days prior to their actual appearance. Now, press materials not only need to grab the attention of reporters, but they must also be flexible enough to be adapted to the multiple entertainment screens that currently exist. PR executives are not only worrying about the traditional print and broadcast outlets, but also online channels and social media. Taking a page long press release and turning it into a 140-character, attention-grabbing tweet takes time and talent. Releases are sent out weeks to months in advance in order to (hopefully) secure a slot for publication. Even if all of these measures are taken, though, it becomes a free-for-all as to whether or not the PR firm will get the desired viewership or impressions that will appease the client.
PR specialists are working harder than they did fifty years ago because today’s society requires it. Employees in the industry need to continue to make the conscious decisions to increase the positioning of their clients with innovative approaches to the press. It is likely that there will never be a time again when a phenomenon like “Beatlemania” will grasp the attention of 40% of the American population, and hold on to that attention for fifty years after the split of the band; but, just because it is unlikely does not mean it should not be the goal.
– Alex Donovan, Team Mariellen