Like most PR and marketing folks, I have been following the work of Paramount Pictures, its agencies, and the genius team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay to promote the epic launch of Anchorman 2.
They have placed the iconic Ron Burgundy in surprising places from co-anchoring an actual newscast in South Dakota to appearing in the play-by-play booth for a Canadian curling match, and of course, performing in the now legendary Dodge Durango commercials.
Marketers are obsessing over this campaign for its clever content, its social media engagement, and its non-traditional approach to driving impressions. But for me, the Burgundian identity is the key to its success; his persona hits us like a whiff of Sex Panther by Odeon.
So for five minutes, I imagined where I might place Ron Burgundy if I was promoting the upcoming film. My brain was engulfed with options. He could ask the lead question in a White House press briefing; he could cover plans for Atlanta's next running of the bulls; he could give an ironic lecture on ethics at the Columbia School of Journalism, and on and on. The floodgates opened instantly.
Then I repeated the same imaginary exercise using a real business leader with serious expertise and credentials. The flood slowed to a trickle, and I found myself limited to ideas that were predictable. It was a downer.
Why was it so easy to come up with ideas for placing Ron Burgundy, when we toil over new approaches to promoting real-life clients? The reason is character development. My imaginary client, Mr. Burgundy, had a distinct, well-developed persona.
Too often, we dive into thought leadership or executive visibility campaigns by focusing on the doing – where to pitch and place luminaries who represent their companies. We focus on the activities, the venues or the platforms, but we gloss over character development. A company spokesperson is not just a vessel for delivering the company story. These folks need to be as bold and passionate as the man who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn. In short: no guts, no glory.
Professional writers think through their characters' personas by asking themselves questions before developing a story. Conventional wisdom is that the more you know your characters, the richer and more relatable they will be. When Stephen King creates a character, he starts by digging through their back stories in great detail; then as he takes his fully-developed characters on a journey, he can imagine how the plot unfolds. Without interesting characters, King would be telling a predictable, colorless narrative, as opposed to his adventurous, mind-blowing works.
So what can we ask ourselves in order to build out more engaging characters for company representatives? There are countless writer resources online, but think of it this way – before stepping on stage, actors have to immerse themselves in:
1.) Backstory – what was the character's journey that led to this moment?
2.) Personality – What are character's interests, attitudes, behaviors, and emotional responses?
3.) Social behavior – Who does the character socialize with? And how do they interact?
We have found that pushing to formulate a distinctive persona can add a little kick to any spokesperson program in the online and offline worlds. By spending time on character development up front, our planners uncover new opportunities that put our speakers in interesting and unpredictable places. Even if they aren't intended to draw millions of downloads or knee-slapping laughter like the glorious Mr. Burgundy, these plans will definitely elicit greater interest and be more memorable. Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.
And for the writers of Anchorman 3, I'm putting in an early plug for the introduction of Ron's first publicist; the player who's the big deal behind the big deal. I've got a character in mind…
Brad Buyce is EVP of client strategy at Coyne PR.