The Art of the Launch: Lessons from Taylor Swift

Earlier this month, we all witnessed the hard launch of a new celebrity couple – Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. The development has been welcomed with open arms by the Swifties and significantly expanded the reach (and earnings) of the Kelce crew. Even the NFL has pandered to their new audience.

For Swift, this is a notable departure from her traditional approach to publicity, which had centered on artfully placed clues (known as Easter eggs) for her fans to piece together before an official announcement, appearance or paparazzi-documented public stroll. In other words, a “soft launch.”

As strategic communications advisors, we see parallels to the range of tactics available when rolling out corporate news. For some announcements, a hard launch and big public splash is the right approach.  For others, a soft launch and more deliberate rollout over time makes more sense. Picking the right strategy for your announcement – and designing a detailed plan – is essential for success. We explore some of these strategies below.

The “Hard Launch”

The hard launch is the most typical approach – meant to convey an important development and the benefits it brings to the widest possible audience in the most efficient way. The hard launch entails a public announcement followed by communications over multiple channels to stakeholders that can include a CEO interview on CNBC, an investor/analyst call, an employee town hall, a letter sent to customers and partners, or outreach to key regulators. In some cases, especially if the news is complex, you may work with a journalist on an exclusive embargoed article that can help to set the right tone from the outset.

The “Soft Launch”

Sometimes it’s necessary to warm your stakeholders up before a major news announcement. Also known as the soft launch, this approach can involve dropping hints or planting seeds in regular course communications, such as outlining your criteria for M&A or detailing a framework for future growth and expansion during an earnings call. The soft launch helps prepare the market so that future news can be properly contextualized within your broader strategic plan.

A soft launch can also be deployed via a leak, which can be deliberate or otherwise. Leaks often involve incomplete (and sometimes inaccurate) information and need to be carefully managed. If deliberate, folks need to have thought through how much information to share and the attribution (e.g., “people close to” or “familiar” with a “situation”), as well as how best to deal with the follow-on media, who may feel snubbed, which can impact the tone of ensuing coverage. Successfully navigating a leak requires a nuanced approach to both shaping coverage and contextualizing the news with important audiences, as appropriate. Having a detailed plan that addresses all types of leaks (i.e., how much information has leaked? How accurate is the information? How close are we to our planned announcement day?) is imperative to facilitate a quick and effective response – and to avoid alienating your audiences.

Other versions of a soft launch can be employed when you want to downplay negative news – enter the 4pm ET Friday SEC filing (a tactic that, in our experience, should be used sparingly, if at all). This can also mean disclosing information in an 8-K instead of a press release or communicating non-material news in an employee memo (which tend to leak, deliberately or otherwise).

In short, how you roll out news can be just as important as the news itself. As Taylor Swift shows us, developing a game plan will allow you to be as prepared as possible and help ensure a well-received announcement. At Reevemark, we have worked with many organizations on nuanced rollouts that convey news – whether negative or positive – to the right groups in the right manner to protect our clients’ brands and enhance their value.

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