Did a lack of decent PR leave Madonna with an MDNA comedown?

James Watts, associate director, Clarion Communications

Madonna is currently touring the world to promote her latest album MDNA - a record which sold 359,000 copies in its first week of release in the US, before sales fell by a whopping 88 percent the following week to just 46,000. Such a massive and immediate drop in sales has never been seen before.

 If this tells us one thing, it's that Madge remains a hell of a good promoter - MDNA had to be a number one, yet it's becoming an increasingly difficult thing to achieve, especially if you're a 53 year old pop star that the new generation of music buyers don't really care about.

So her marketing team did the only thing they could: they secured the top slot through front-loading pre-orders, a mass mobilisation of her huge online fan base and a three-line whip imposed on all marketeers and distributors.

There was, however, one thing lacking: any PR.  Madonna didn't conduct a single (traditional) media interview to support the launch of the new album - and this from a woman who could arguably be one of the best PR and brand marketing experts in the music industry.

Instead, she decided to put all her time and effort into speaking directly to fans through social media: her Facebook page was essentially re-launched in the run up to the MDNA launch and, for the first time ever, she even spent a few hours on Twitter.

At first glance it seems a good strategy: let marketeers and promoters push sales, get your star to speak directly to fans online, and essentially cut out the middle man (ie. the media).  In fact the only role traditional media were invited to play in the album launch was to review it; journos were invited to a 'special group preview' where music hacks were herded together and invited to listen to the new album track by track. Despite this approach, it received positive reviews.

And yet the album has seen the lowest sales of any Madonna studio album since the 80s. Why? A total lack of awareness and interest in the album’s release, outside her core fan base.  Her Madgeness knows better than anyone how clever media manipulation can create awareness, get people talking, secure attention and drive sales - so why didn't she balance the campaign with more traditional media engagement?

The answer is simple: she didn't need to. The music industry has shifted away from album sales - that's not where the money is any more. Today is all about filling stadia and getting bums on seats. After all, Madonna has to fulfil a £120m deal with Live Nation who own the rights to all of her live recordings. Compare this to her record deal with Interscope, in which she earns just $1million per record - part of the deal is that it works in tandem with her "360" deal with Live Nation. It used to be that you would tour to promote the album - now you have an album, so that you can fill the tour.

Only problem with this - and something which other artists seem to care more about - is that if album sales are poor, the media will still consider everything else you do a failure.  Bad album sales don't make for good PR.

It's hard to believe Madonna's marketing team weren't aware that in 2012 you can't have any single marketing discipline working in silo. Take a look at any first-class marketing campaign and you'll see above the line activity works in perfect unison with digital, PR and social media.

The lack of engagement with traditional media around the MDMA launch might explain why the current mood within the media is so negative towards her - you need to speak to the press to keep them onside. At London’s Hyde Park two weeks ago she delivered an intelligent, dramatic, slick and ridiculously energetic live show at a level of quality that other pop stars can only dream of.  But all she got from the UK media was a collection of largely negative reviews.

Does she care? Probably not. She's already moved on to the next country in her 88-stop world trek, which is set to break records as the highest grossing tour ever (beating the previous record set by, er, Madonna).  Yet you still can't help but feel even when she does set the record, media coverage around it will still be relatively negative.  Still, as she says on her latest album, "and if I was a failure, I don't give a..."

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