Dear Eurovision Fan, I want to talk to you about something that may be of interest to you. I want to engage with you in a very specific way, and if possible, on terms that suit us both. By doing this, I hope to manage the way in which you form an opinion about me.
What is it that I’m talking about? Public Relations. Or, as it’s more commonly known, PR. The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations has a very succinct, if not vague, definition of PR:
Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.
PR at Eurovision
We all know PR exists and most of the time we know when we’re being targeted/engaged with (delete as appropriate!) by those that practice the art. But for many, it’s still something of a nebulous concept. In a world of globalisation and increased interconnectedness, PR is becoming even more critical for those whose fate rests on public opinion. At Eurovision, it’s therefore unsurprising that artists (and the teams that manage them) are focussing heavily on PR. But what is its true value and does it really help a nation’s entry at the Eurovision Song Contest?
In the past there have been some notable instances of good and bad PR at Eurovision. You can see why a country’s delegation may consider it to be an important factor in a successful campaign, especially when asking for international public votes. But a campaign can quickly change course and start heading in the wrong direction.
In 2014, the Armenian entrant, Aram MP3, made homophobic comments about the Austrian entry of that same year. Conchita Wurst is the drag creation of Tom Neuwirth and was the representative for Austria in Copenhagen. Aram MP3 was the bookies pre-contest favourite and was in line for a potential Eurovision victory. After his comments in which he called Conchita “not normal”, the Armenian’s odds slipped drastically. Admittedly, there was a series of underwhelming rehearsals and a Grand Final performance that didn’t quite live up to the early hype, but the press wasn’t exactly prepared to help Aram MP3’s cause. The fall from grace was complete. He finished in 4th place and as for Conchita? Well, you know the rest!
A year later – thanks to the “Rise Like a Phoenix” singer’s victory – we were in Vienna. It was here where we saw an example of really good PR, and yet again it involved Conchita. Aram MP3’s previous comments paled in significance compared to the political maelstrom that followed the Austrian’s win. At this time, there was a lot of anti-Russia sentiment due to the country’s discriminatory LGBTQI+ laws. Furthermore, the annexation of Crimea by Russia was still in the news water supply across Europe. In short, these themes were a hot topic and headlines appeared everywhere, pitting notable LGBTQI+ allies against Russian figureheads.
*Enter Conchita Wurst*
She was labelled ‘an abomination’ by the Russian Orthodox Church and even Vladimir Putin had something to say about the Austrian. The Russian President said that it was “important to reaffirm traditional values”, in a speech that indirectly took a swipe at Conchita.
If Russia can do anything well, it’s PR. The Russian delegation in Vienna knew that they had to counter the nation’s poor image, especially when asking for international votes. Not for the first time, Russia had a song about peace, sung by an beautiful female vocalist. Polina Gagarina was the latest iteration of this type with “A Million Voices“. The aim was to charm everyone in sight and keep the publicity positive and non-political. With Conchita as the ‘Green Room’ host in 2015, this presented a real opportunity for Russia. Cue an extremely media-friendly, ‘chance’ encounter between Conchita and Polina. This meeting was actually beneficial for both artists. Polina showed the world that she was embracing that year’s Eurovision slogan ‘Building Bridges’, and Conchita continued her own theme of equality by showing ALL of the 2015 artists love and respect.
How important is PR at Eurovision?
So, let’s return to the question posed above. What is the true value of PR at the Eurovision Song Contest?
It’s a fact that Aram MP3’s stock fell after his comments in 2014, but 4th place is still an excellent result. Just because you’re favourite with the bookies, it doesn’t mean you’ll be lifting the trophy when the credits roll. Ask Italy’s 2017 entry, Francesco Gabbani! Conversely, Polina Gagarina sung a very good song flawlessly in 2015. Her 2nd place finish was hardly down to good PR alone.
Honestly, I do sometimes think these stories seem much bigger inside the Eurovision fan bubble than they are outside in the great wide world. If you bring a good song with a strong artist, and you create a stage performance that makes people sit up and vote, you’re already looking at the left-hand side of the scoreboard. Coupled with sheer luck, PR can bolster a nation’s bid for Eurovision glory, but only as part of a well put together package. As our friend, Hera Björk, would tell us: You need that “special something”, that “je ne sais quoi.”
So what is the true value of PR at the Eurovision Song Contest? Unless you have a time machine, this is impossible to answer.
Can you think of any examples of good and bad PR at Eurovision? Do you agree with some of the statements made in our article? Let us know in the comments below and also on Twitter @ESCXTRA.
*Read Part 2 in this series where we’ll be looking at the PR winners and losers of Lisbon 2018.*