Editorials & Opinion

Who were the PR winners and losers of Eurovision 2018?

Read the second part of ESCXTRA's two-part series where we delve into the world of PR and Eurovision

In the first part of ESCXTRA’s two-part editorial on PR, we asked “What is the true value of PR at the Eurovision Song Contest? In our second and final part of the series, we are looking at the PR winners and losers of Lisbon 2018.

Part one of this series focused on the value of PR from the perspective of winning the contest, but Eurovision is about so much more than just lifting a trophy. In the world’s biggest music competition there are many different interpretations of success. When you factor in the various stakeholders such as artists, broadcasters, fans, and even the EBU – each with their own specific expectations – what actually constitutes success can be vastly different depending on who you ask. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the entries from Lisbon 2018 and try to unpick what was going on from a PR point of view, and who were some of the PR winners and losers.

Win – Czech Republic

Source: Tom O’Donoghue

We’re kicking off with the Czech Republic and an ingenious move in creating a selection process in which public voting was via the official Eurovision app. This was a PR master stroke for a number of reasons. Firstly, it started a conversation about a country that almost gets forgotten at Eurovision due to its relatively new status as perennial participant (first appearence in 2007 with a hiatus from 2010 to 2014). Secondly, interest in the Eurovision Song Contest was dwindling back at home – cited as the main reason for said 5-year hiatus – and so Czech broadcaster, ČT, needed to do something new to rejuvinate interest. By the time Mikolas Josef and “Lie To Me” was selected to represent the Czech Republic in Lisbon, there was already number of engaged voters having a conversation about the entry.

If ČT wanted to garner interest in the contest, then this was the way to do it. And if the Czech public wanted their Head of Delegation, Jan Bors, to deliver a strong result at Eurovision, then Mikolas Josef’s 6th place finish also delivered on that promise. Whichever way you look at it, the Czech Republic PR campaign was a massive success.

Loss – San Marino

Source: SMRTV

In what was the most frustrating national final of 2018, 1in360 failed to live up to its early promise. When first announced, the 1in360 and SMRTV partnership looked like an interesting and fresh new approach. Much like the Czech Republic, this selection process had an open feel to it: online public submissions on a very media-friendly platform. 1in360 had singers and would-be Eurovision entrants calling out for public votes through social media. There was a lot of interest in who had entered and what they chose to sing. In short, 1in360 was a self-perpetuating PR train. So far, so good.

But just like a shoddy plastering job, cracks started to appear. In the latter stages of the competition, the criticism started to build. In a relatively short space of time, we saw: allegations of vote rigging, confusion over where the money was coming from and going to, suspect 3rd party stakeholders, and last-minute rule changes. There was further confusion over singers amending their names and then partnering up with other singers in the competition. It is therefore unsurprising that the 1in360 selection process will not return to pick the San Marinese entry for 2019.

As you can see, I’ve attributed this loss not to the many (and somewhat murky) 1in360 stakeholders, but to the Republic of San Marino as a nation. Quite frankly, the country deserved better.

Win – Saara Aalto

Source:  YLE

I would make the argument that Saara Aalto was the biggest winner of the PR game in 2018. Yes, you can’t deny that a second to last place finish at the contest would be hugely disappointing to most artists. But Saara was fulfilling her dream of going to the Eurovision Song Contest in the first place.  Furthermore, the album released just before the show in May is her most successful to date: number 2 in the Finnish charts and multiple charting singles in countries as far away as FYR Macedonia.  You could say something similar of a lot of artists after an appearance at Eurovision, but it was the way in which Saara (and her team) went about promotion.

There was a steady drip-feed of news and information about what Saara was up to, both before and directly after Eurovision. Of course, this all played out on social media. We got:

  • teaser videos of the three songs up for selection for Lisbon
  • shout outs and links to articles/interviews
  • self-deprecating jokes about coming 2nd in fan site votes
  • inspirational lyrics from “Monsters” on International Women’s Day
  • performances videos in which Saara sings in multiple languages

In short, Saara and her team put out unique and varied content. Yes, other entrants were pushing themselves on social media too, but not at the same frequency or as consistent as Saara. At a time when media interest in Saara was at its peak, she managed to fit in the promotion of gigs, appearances, her tour, the announcement of the new album, and all alongside the promotion of “Monsters” as Finland’s entry and as a single. She may well have been slightly disappointed with the final scoreboard, but Saara managed to squeeze every inch of life out of her Eurovision experience.

Loss – Russia

Source: Tom O’Donoghue

We can’t talk about the Russia PR train in 2018 without looking at its 2017 campaign. The selection of Julia Samoylova created an overspill of narrative from one year to the next. This occurred due to the selection and withdrawal of Julia in 2017, and then the Russian singer’s subsequant re-entry into the 2018 contest.

In 2017, the Russian narrative was that the country was being victimised by Ukraine and the rest of Europe by not allowing Julia to perform in Kyiv. Russia, who in the past has been criticised for its lack of diversity at Eurovision, were essentially turning the tables around and using the not so subtle subtext of a wheelchair user being rejected from Eurovision.  Whether you agree or disagree about the appropriateness of that subtext, it was a well-calculated gamble that looked like it may pay off for Russia until…

2018. Julia returns to the contest with arguably a better song than the previous year’s. But after a poor pre-contest vocal performance and questions raised about the clumsy staging of Julia in Lisbon, the narrative of ‘Russia as victim’ had morphed into how Julia was perhaps being used as a political pawn.  It was a deep sadness for me in Lisbon at the end of the 2nd Semi Final when Julia didn’t qualify for the Final. She waved to the fans as they were heading for the exit of the arena, a vision of disappointment. Apart from local news fodder back in Russia, I really can’t see who gained much from the 2-year rigmarole.

Win – The BBC

Source: Tom O’Donoghue

This may not be a popular opinion amongst UK fans, but Lisbon 2018 was a PR win for the BBC. It is easy to think of Eurovision as a song contest, and a song contest where only the result matters. As a public broadcaster that has to marshal the resources of the UK TV licence fee, there are certain stipulations and responsibilities.  These are measured and evaluated by key performance indicators, or KPIs. One of these pertains to acting in the public interest.  There is no clearer evidence for a broadcaster that is trying to serve its viewing public than its viewing figures.

In 2018, the overnight average viewers for the Grand Final was 6.9 million.  This was a increase of 200,000 viewers from the figure of 6.7 million in 2017. Importantly for the BBC, this beat the number of viewers watching rival channel ITV’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent‘ (6.8 million) and was the most watched programme on TV that night.

The BBC will always prioritise these KPIs over winning a song contest.

Tel Aviv 2019? Start your engines!

As we approach national final season, I fully expect to see the well-oiled cogs of the PR machine start to turn. We’ll be keeping an eye out at ESCXTRA HQ, so watch this space for thoughts on the 2019 entrants and the ways in which they ensure you vote for them.

Can you think of any examples of good and bad PR at Eurovision?  Do you agree with the analysis in the article? Let us know in the comments below and also on Twitter @ESCXTRA.

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