3 PR Lessons from Jay Z and Kanye West

I’m a big fan of rap & hip-hop music, and this summer has featured a number of huge releases from some of my favorite artists. Two that received the most buzz, at least in the mainstream media, were Kanye West’s Yeezus and Jay Z’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail. As much as I love both albums, I think I had fallen in love with each of them before I heard a single track because of the promotional strategies of both artists.

The traditional method for getting fans hyped about a new album is to pick the catchiest song that appeals to the most people and release it before the rest of the album. Distributing the song widely via internet channels and radio stations that act as gatekeepers, listeners hope that the rest of the album is similar to the hit-single and purchase it accordingly.

At this point in their careers, though, that’s not the route that Jay and ‘Ye took. Those of us in the field of public relations could learn a few things from the non-traditional tactics that the artists employed this time around.

1. Form partnerships.

Jay Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail

Image sourced from Flickr user DjAOne

Regardless of what industry you work in, there are bound to be related companies who have an interest in yours. Forming partnerships with them can often result in a positive experience for all involved.

In Jay Z’s case, he was able to team up with Samsung, who purchased 1 million copies of Magna Carta at $5 each just to turn around and give them all  away for free a few days ahead of the public release date.

  • One million Jay Z fans get a free album before it’s commercially available.
  • Jay Z puts out an album that goes platinum before it hits shelves.
  • Samsung builds some serious loyalty among existing customers and, more importantly, gets iPhone users thinking, “Hmm. Apple doesn’t do stuff like that for me…”

Who doesn’t love a win:win:win scenario like that?

2. Be big, be bright.

Kanye West - Yeezus

Image sourced from Flickr user Why_phil

It’s easy to land some top-of-line media coverage when you turn heads.

Kanye west debuted one of the songs from his album by projecting it onto 66 skyscrapers in cities around the globe on May 17. Have you ever heard of that being done before? Can you even imagine the logistical operation that must have been?! Check out the video below.

Jay Z also did something that had people talking. During halftime of the pivotal game 5 of the NBA finals, a three minute behind the scenes look at the making of Magna Carta Holy Grail was aired, featuring samples of some of the beats and Jay Z himself talking about his strategy and direction of the project.

Watching myself, I literally stopped what I was doing and gazed at my TV for the complete three minutes before taking to Twitter and unleashing the passionate excitement the ad had created for me.

3. Prepare for anything.

Unfortunately, both artists’ high profile releases were damaged by issues with new technology.

Though Samsung deserves the blame rather than Jay Z, the app that was to provide the free copy of Magna Carta Holy Grail failed for many individuals. A search of app store reviews reveals that Apple may have benefited more from Samsung’s botched promotion! 

While many Jay Z fans were unable to get his album, Kanye West faced the opposite problem: his fans got it too soon! Yeezus leaked about four days prior to its official release. On the Internet today, it’s pretty rare for albums not to be leaked early. It’s incredibly damaging for artists and their record labels, but this Huffington Post article explains that West was anticipating the leak and was not at all bent out of shape over it.

Although you might not want to admit it, we can all learn a few things from rap moguls Jay Z and Kanye West. The next time your client is launching a new product or service, maybe you could focus less on the traditional press release, but do something that will really generate some buzz and get the media talking.


About Jim Mignano

Jim Mignano is a young professional practicing and learning Public Relations in Rochester, NY. He is passionate about the possibilities that digital media provide and loves utilizing new platforms for a variety of functions. James' blog is about people and the technology they use. It's about communication and persuasion... the old and the new ways of doing things... the struggle between sticking to the tried, true recipes and experimenting with intuitive, innovative ideas. It's an extension and reflection of James himself: the convergence of ambition & ability.
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