Campaign: Outside teaches an old rocker new tricks

Jon Bon Jovi is one of the world's few 'mega' rock stars. Last month his band performed the last of its sell-out world tour to a crowd of 55,000, with a promise to revellers that it would not be their last.

Campaign Bon Jovi personal PR
Client Jon Bon Jovi
PR team The Outside Organisation
Timescale October 2005-ongoing
Budget Undisclosed

It was yet another highlight of a remarkable 23-year career, which has seen the band play to 92,000 fans in Hyde Park, the XXXVII Superbowl, and most recently to a global TV audience of one billion Live 8 viewers.

During this time, Bon Jovi the group has notched up 20 top ten UK hits, and in 2004 became the first act to sell more than 100,000,000 albums.

Yet compared with the group's musical success, at a personal level the Bon Jovi brand was stuck in a PR timewarp, with exclusive-hungry magazine editors shunning the frontman in favour of younger stars.

‘Bon Jovi is one of the few artists still able to sell tens of thousands of tickets in a week, but the public and mainstream media's perception of him is 20 years out of date,' says Alan Edwards, CEO of The Outside Organisation, which won Bon Jovi's personal PR business last year. ‘If you mention Bon Jovi, most people think of long hair and Livin' On a Prayer - that was in 1986.'

Not very rock 'n' roll
Even to those who knew him better, Jon Bon Jovi was no longer interesting news. He may be a rocker, but his behaviour is very ‘unrockerlike'. He is private, does not fall out of bars drunk, and has been married for 20 years.

Outside felt that the out-of-date image was the main factor limiting press interest. With the band's ninth album Nice Day, and impending ‘Have A Nice Day' World Tour kicking off from September, Edwards - who has previously represented the Spice Girls, and currently has Sir Paul McCartney and Westlife on his books - knew a different approach was needed to make Bon Jovi feel relevant again.

‘The notion came about organically,' says Edwards. ‘It's not how we vocalise promoting Jon, it's the manifestation of the two of us agreeing that Bon Jovi is still one of the biggest bands in the world. But getting the full respect of journalists for this was difficult. As soon as I began spending more time with Jon, getting to know him, it became more and more obvious that there was a lot to him that the public didn't know.'

Because Outside's brief is to focus Jon's UK time on influential music press and TV, its strategy has been to persuade reluctant journalists that Jon has broad interests, is articulate, and has political and social concerns. The strategy has also been to emphasise that Jon is still ‘relevant'.

Jon Bon Jovi has been integral to the process, suggesting areas he wants to discuss. This includes his recent co-ownership of the Philadelphia Souls American football team, which gives local children access to training facilities; its social imperative is to help take kids off the streets.

Other topics that Outside and Bon Jovi agreed to pursue include repositioning Jon as having an active interest in politics, and the US Democrat party in particular, for which he has played several fundraising rallies.

Once topics were agreed, Outside approached selected media as promotion of the tour kicked off, portraying the gigs as a chance to rediscover the artist. This included on-the-road and ‘backstage with' opportunities for media, while Outside briefed Bon Jovi on more quirky angles - such as a poll which found that Livin' On a Prayer was one of the UK's top five most downloaded MP3s.

An important initial target was an interview with Sky News's James Rubin - the former adviser to presidential candidate John Kerry - who presents a regular international affairs programme. A pitch was made to Sky and Rubin emphasising the political nature of Jon's personality. The June interview was the first time a rock singer had appeared on the programme.

‘We were aware that creative talent and politics do not always mix,' says Edwards. ‘So we advised Jon not to come across as overtly critical of American policy. That said, he and Rubin got on fabulously, and discussed whether Jon had conflicting views to fellow rocker-turned-activist Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen.'

Edwards attributes this initial breakthrough as paving the way for print journalists to take the exclusives offered, thereby increasing the opportunities to have the singer interviewed.

From Wembley to Milton Keynes
Two developments became important to the repositioning - one surrounding the completion of the new Wembley Stadium, which was initially proactively pushed, but later abandoned - and another around the recent Prince's Trust commemorative concert, broadcast on ITV1.

‘Last September we pushed the fact that Bon Jovi would open the new stadium with a photoshoot of Jon travelling to Wembley on the Tube,' says account handler Celena Aponte. ‘This was promoted again in January when more dates were announced.' At the time doubts were surfacing that the stadium would not be ready. When it was eventually revealed in February that Wembley would not be completed on time, Edwards and Aponte decided to avoid the ‘scratched gig' angle.

‘There was just a slumping feeling, lots of disappointed fans,' says Aponte. ‘It didn't fit our positioning of Jon to score media points from it.'

The second event - the Prince's Trust charity concert in May - was a project on which Edwards had been working since before the previous Christmas. ‘The organisers had real doubts about flying the entire Bon Jovi crew and equipment over for a ten-minute slot,' says Edwards.

He refuses to reveal the inner workings of getting the deal signed, but remarks that ‘there was a lot of convincing, right up until the last minute'.

So, has the repositioning worked? Outside reports a five-fold increase in cuttings, most importantly showing  Jon Bon Jovi presented as a mature rocker with depth. While coverage of the new album hit all the mainstream national and music press, Heat magazine, the Daily Mirror, Music Week, The Observer and Time Out all mentioned it in relation to the band's anti-Bush political bias. The Daily Record, meanwhile, reported the band's $1m donation to the Hurricane Katrina fund. In May, The Guardian ran an exclusive interview with Jon, timed to coincide with the UK arm of the tour, and The Independent ran a five-page on-the-road feature on Jon's wider interests.

In interviews with the Daily Mail and Sunday Express, Jon talked about his politics and his Philadelphia Souls project, while the football team and Jon starred in dedicated feature in Q. Mojo and Kerrang! also mentioned the team in their June issues, as did the Metro. The previous month, Jon was photographed by David Bailey for a ten-page feature in GQ. Jon also agreed to an interview with the Milton Keynes Citizen - to reassure fans that the replacement venue for the cancelled Wembley gig would be just as good.

More than seven million people tuned in to the Prince's Trust concert, raising more than £3m in pledges.

COVERAGE GAINED

Newspapers:
Nationals included The Times, Daily Mirror, The Guardian, The Independent and The Observer. Regional Press included Metro and the Milton Keynes Citizen.

Magazines: Celebrity magazines included Heat and OK! Men's magazines included Q and GQ. Popular culture and music magazines included Time Out, Kerrang!, Music Week and Mojo.

HOW THE INDY TOOK A ROAD TRIP WITH BON JOVI

Ed Caesar
The Independent and Independent on Sunday feature writer, spent two days with Bon Jovi on the Düsseldorf leg of their world tour (May 2006) after Outside approached the paper with the possibility of interviewing Jon. ‘Outside originally phoned my editor suggesting a simple face-to-face interview, but when we suggested doing something more visual, Outside immediately suggested an on-the-road angle,' he says.

Caesar admits to having had a stereotypical view of Bon Jovi. ‘My knowledge was limited to the fact that they had some middling rock anthems under their belt and had long hair. However, the opportunity was an Independent story - we like to talk to big names who, for one reason or another, have faded or are not of the moment, and are misunderstood: they probably have some interesting things to say that people won't have heard of.'

He adds: ‘When I first met Jon, I wondered if the piece would be any good. He began by saying that talking to the press was sometimes a chore, and repeated stuff that I'd already read in my own cuts. However, we gradually gelled, and in the end he opened up and told me loads of stuff that I knew would broaden his appeal. In the end, there was no access I wasn't granted.'

SECOND OPINION byMelanie Cantor

I was initially intrigued by the need for Jon Bon Jovi to run a PR campaign.  If I had a client who, without publicity,  was still selling albums and tickets in record-breaking fashion, as Bon Jovi does, I would consider myself blessed.

Was Jon looking for a shampoo commercial, or was he simply peeved that the media did not recognise how fascinating he was underneath all that gorgeous hair?

Whatever the ultimate goal,  if one of  the objectives of this campaign was to get a bigger bag of press cuttings and revitalise media interest in the man, then the outcome was evidently an out and out success.  

Unquestionably, the first thing any good PR company does when  it wants to change someone's image is dig down to what lies beneath. My main comment would be that the approach was more gently-gently than ground-breaking. Was the political angle and the tale of hidden intelligence a little slight? I think even more could have been made of these with more surprises. 

However, with the old 1980s image of Jon Bon Jovi, this may have been just the ‘new' angle the papers wanted, and ultimately embraced.

At the end of the day, perhaps this was also what Jon wanted, and the fact that he plays it safe might prove a problem in a continuing campaign. The challenge for The Outside Organisation is to ask what the ongoing brief is.

You can only broaden someone as far as he or she wants to be broadened, and it could risk having Bon Jovi lapsing into dullness again.

Melanie Cantor, a partner at take3 management, has handled PR for Adam Ant

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