Five PR Lessons from ‘Born to Run’

If you are wondering why Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album is back in heavy rotation on the radio, the explanation is simple. The Boss’s landmark LP was released 40 years ago this week.

Born to Run is a piece of rock and roll history. The album’s tracks have stood the test of time and remain among the highlights of Springsteen’s live performances. The record also helped turn Springsteen from a popular regional act into a superstar.

Aside from the music, the LP and the campaign to promote it – provide several important lessons for today’s public relations and marketing professionals.

1. Don’t cut costs

Columbia Records invested $250,000 in a promotional campaign for the album – a small sum by today’s standards, but a healthy chunk of change back in 1975, especially for an artist whose first two records had only moderate success. Four decades later, more than six million copies of Born to Run have been sold. Not a bad return on investment.

2. Run with a strong message

Columbia found its message in a review of a Springsteen live show in which the author declared: “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” The record company used that line as the centerpiece of its campaign to create a buzz about the young rocker from New Jersey. The author of that review, Jon Landau, ended up co-producing Born to Run and becoming Springsteen’s manager.

3. The client does not always know best

The best PR and marketing people are not yes-men or yes-women. Communication professionals are the ones best equipped to make strategic decisions about what will work and what will not, even if their advice runs counter to what their clients or bosses want. Springsteen was not comfortable being sold as the future of rock and roll, and he made no bones about it. In fact, he personally tore down posters with a similar message when he spotted them at the venue for his first concert in the United Kingdom. But the promotion people had it right. Their campaign did the trick and laid the foundation for Springsteen’s widespread popularity.

4. Be bold and take chances

Although the album had not yet been released and Springsteen still was far from a household name, he played 10 shows at the Bottom Line in New York City’s Greenwich Village in mid-August. Columbia promoted the shows heavily; the audiences were filled with critics and music industry insiders, and one show was broadcast live on FM radio. Given the high-profile setting, Springsteen’s career could have taken a turn south had he failed to live up to the hype. But he did not disappoint. The shows captivated the Big Apple and created excitement and a sense of anticipation for the release of the album.

5. A successful promotion starts with a good product

Public relations and marketing professionals can do a lot to attract attention and publicity for a client. But at the end of the day, if what one is selling is not a quality product, the odds of success dwindle. Springsteen clearly was – and still is – a multi-talented entertainer. The Born to Run campaign promoted Bruce Springsteen; it did not create him.

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So as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of Born to Run, enjoy the music. But remember: There are some lessons we can learn from Bruce that will not be found in the words of his songs.

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