Make finding the next David Bowie your New Year’s Resolution

About the author

Chris is a lecturer, media trainer, crisis communication consultant and coach. Her in-house roles have included the global position of Director of PR for Barclays. Chris leads the CIPR PR Diploma and Crisis Comms Diplomas. BA Hons, CAM, MCIPR

There is a message for communicators in the passing of David Bowie (but I am a biased super fan!).

The announcement on Monday of David Bowie has led to an enormous out-pouring of grief amongst millions, including myself. I first became a fan whilst still at primary school when I saw part of his Ziggy Stardust performance on a BBC news programme. The contrast of the stuffy news programme seeking to explain this cross-dressing, make-up wearing alien persona was striking but the message was clear: you can be whatever you want to be. Bowie was a key influencer before we were even aware of the term.

Let’s look at the areas he influenced and there is more than music where the trail he blazed has been cited as crucial by a long and lengthening list of the biggest pop and rock stars around. In the world of fashion his many differing personas were taken and adapted on the world’s catwalks. As the New York Times observed: “Which designer didn’t he influence?” as that would be the shorter article to write. In Bowie’s world it was okay for guys to wear bright colours and floral patterns and for girls to take the button-down shirt look of his German years when he produced his “Heroes” anthem. Stuffy gender conventions were there to be challenged.

So too for Bowie was the world of sexuality. Whilst in his later years Bowie claimed to be a “closet heterosexual” his openness to the idea of sexuality being a matter of choice and for that choice to be free and worthy of celebration, was a great contribution to the changes we now see in how society views the LGBT community. Bowie surely removed more than a few of the bricks in the wall that prevented gay marriage.

His influence even extended to my old stomping ground of the City. Bowie was the first star to bundle up and sell in the form of bonds the future income relating to his greatest hits. Securitising creative assets was a new idea and one he pioneered. Not only was his move followed by other artists such as James Brown and Rod Stewart but by a wide variety of esoteric assets from racehorse stud rights to the “Peanuts” comic strip. It was a lucrative and shrewd move as in the years following his bond issuance, internet file-sharing began to drive a coach and horses through the royalties other artists relied upon.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Berlin wall! The message for communicators is to identify the key influencers in the sectors and amongst the audiences we are trying to reach. They may not be the obvious ones (a pop star influencing high finance?) so firstly we need to keep an open-mind. Secondly, we need to put our listening hats on. There are plenty of excellent tools to help us do that and you might like to take a look at the CIPR’s Social Media Monitoring Guide but it really only just skims the surface of some of the free tools that are out there. Thirdly, try to get up off your chair and literally take a walk in the shoes of your stakeholders: attend their conferences, participate, take all opportunities to talk to them. I don’t believe for one moment you will find the next David Bowie but then I am a biased super-fan. But there is every chance you will find the person who best has their finger on the pulse of what your target market is really interested in and is speaking a language they understand.