Vicarious Experiences

I had a chat with Gi at Techlightenment over a coffee in the Tea Building at Shoreditch last week when we got to discussing what I had blogged about in my ‘fire hose of content‘ posting earlier on that week. And we diverted on to vicarious experiences, let me give you an example:

Occasionally I used to go to The Haçienda nightclub in Manchester at the junction of Whitworth Street West and Albion Street, I couldn’t afford to go that regularly and having quite a broad Liverpool accent preferred not to venture out in Manchester without at least one or two friends in tow.

The Haçienda was a musical venue that was as influential in its own way as CBGB, The Warehouse, Paradise Garage or the Woodstock Music and Art Fair since it was a crucible for musical innovation, social change and urban renewal.

The club nights weren’t that full on many nights, much of the music were very avant-garde. Factory Records who owned the club with music group New Order nurtured the avant-garde as kind of a bet on the future, but that didn’t result in packed houses most of the time, in fact some of the stuff I found to be almost unlistenable let along worth a car journey to central Manchester.

The nightclub now has such a mythical status that if all the people who’ve told me over the years that they went on a regular basis then the club would have had to been about the size of the GMEX centre to house them all. Instead the club eventually closed due to a combination of gangsterism, police harassment and because it lost money.

Ok, ok, the reason for this trip down memory lane is all those club-goers who weren’t there. The thing of it is that you have a substantial amount of people who at best have experienced things through other people and feel that it was good enough to have been an experience of their own.

How does this relate to PR?

Ok, imagine if you have a call to action that is an experience (for instance trying out a hot new website) and for this bunch of ‘vicarious experiencers’ reading about said website or seeing a short broadcast segment news story is the same experience and just as fulfilling as following through on the call to action.

This is an additional factor to consider with the firehouse of content. It is no longer about ensuring that the audience doesn’t get exposed to too much information that leave them with no ‘opportunity time’ to respond to the campaign call to action.

Vicarious experience now means that we need to think about PR campaigns in terms of a fan dance that titillates but doesn’t reveal enough that the audience loses their curiosity. It also implies that PR is optimally used in launch and pre-launch activity rather than in campaign momentum where the outline of a product, service or experience is understood. Coverage derived from momentum PR is likely to provide just the kind of show-and-tell coverage that allows the audience to vicariously experience the campaign call to action without engaging with the campaign or the company brand in a meaningful (or profitable) way.

Its not only important to balance marketing communications activity to give the audience the right incentive and time to follow up on a campaign call to action, but also encourage real over secondhand experiences.