In honor of her seventh album, Unapologetic, pop star Rihanna took on a major endeavor with a very Vegas-like name: “The 777 Tour,” a concert series that would have her travel to seven cities in seven countries in seven days on a plane with about 50 fans and 150 journalists in tow. While Rihanna’s star status alone guaranteed the tour being a week-long celebrity news headliner, it was quickly overshadowed by the apparent torture experienced by the fans and journalists traveling with her: jet lag; cramped spaces; the lack of proper food, toiletries, and Internet access; and little to no interactions with the singer herself after the first few days on board as she remained at the front of the plane. Needless to say, the event turned out to be a public relations disaster, one that upset even the most loyal members of her RihannaNavy fanbase and the journalism community—two outlets an entertainer like Rihanna depends on to be the brand she is today.
Although the tour has reached its end, and the terrifying, if not murderous tweets from those on the plane, stories about Australian journalist-turned-streaker Tim Dormer, and overall mutiny from journalists only live on in Internet infamy, there is a lot companies and service providers can learn from this endeavor turned disaster. After all, while hindsight is 20/20, it’s better to avoid as many disasters as you can.
- Set your priorities: While a tour of any size requires priority to be placed on things like set equipment, instruments, and wardrobe, the biggest priority for The 777 Tour wasn’t really any of these things—it was the people. While Rihanna and company are used to a hectic schedule and less-than-stellar traveling accommodations (yes, even when said accommodations are in the relative comfort of a private jet), one of the biggest priorities, if not the biggest priority, were the 200+ people who were unused to those conditions. It’s important to remember that regardless of how many times you or your company gets used to executing one type of event or campaign, priorities may change when other factors are added. Even doing something simple, like an event in an outside venue, requires just as much if not more consideration for safety than simply lighting.
- Anticipate problems and plan for them: It goes without saying that those 200 people not having access to many of the things it’s assumed that Rihanna always gets—like leg room and the chance to sit down and eat real food—was a very noticeable problem for the tour, one that should have been accounted for and planned. For example, maybe getting another plane for them to reach a location a bit later than Rihanna herself would have been better, allowing them to sleep a little longer, be refreshed, and better able to handle the schedule delay. Although it’s possible that any plans made for the fans and journalists that didn’t include seeing Rihanna 24/7 would have made them upset, them complaining about not being able to see her for a few hours would have been so much better than complaints about never being able to see her and feeling like they were dwelling in airplane purgatory.
- Remember your duties as a public figure (part 1): Rihanna having more than 100 journalists willing to document her every move and appearance was done for a reason—having stories about Rihanna to better promote the album and give a behind-the-scenes look at her life on tour. Their job was dependent on Rihanna being willing to take a moment out of her schedule and speak to them. The age-old lesson learned here is it’s important that if you have a company representative or are your company’s representative, your job is to commit to fulfilling your media obligations. While we now live in a world where one’s image can be created, controlled, or even changed internally, traditional media is still an important influencer in how you’re perceived. Even today, transparency and professionalism are still key.US Magazine
- Remember your duties as a public figure (part 2): For Rihanna, another duty that went unfulfilled was her remembering that the people who truly mattered were those RihannaNavy members traveling with her. From the beginning, their experiences with Rihanna were to play a very important role in enforcing the image of her as an entertainer who connects with her fans and shaping the way others—fans, commentators, and critics alike—see her. While 50 people won’t completely change the way over 62 million on Facebook or 26 million other people on Twitter see Rihanna, especially as Unapologetic became #1 on the Billboard charts in the United States on November 28, their chronicling the lack of interaction with their favorite performer has had to have hit home for some—if it hadn’t, there wouldn’t be so many articles about it. Having Rihanna come from the front of the plane to where her fans were in the back wouldn’t have necessarily made everything better, but a fan being able to shake her hand, speak with her, or at worst, complain to her would have generated a much more positive impact in their experience.Again, for companies, it is important that fans see you as someone who knows what they experience, understands their needs, and reflects that in as many ways as you can. Depending on what your company does or represents, the dynamic shared by you and your customers is one that can change almost instantly. While you can’t prepare for everything that will happen, letting them know that you’re listening to them and you recognize their needs makes all the difference.
- And if all else fails, apologize: Luckily, this is a lesson Rihanna seemed to put in practice as she released a formal apology on the last day of the tour explaining her absence was to make sure her voice was still strong throughout the week.While that explanation does not excuse what her fans and the press went through, and can even be seen as her being out of touch with what was going on, acknowledging the disaster her tour became allows her to better repair the damage her brand has gone through, dodge a potentially strong wave of backlash, and generate interest from other fans should she try an endeavor of this scale again.And this lesson is just as important as any of the others. Though apologizing will not always guarantee things working out in your favor, it is the first and most essential step in handling any crisis or disaster that may come save for not having one at all. It never hurts to say sorry—and to mean it.
Let’s hope that for Rihanna, using “7” that many times in a tour name will make sure the odds work out in her favor next time.What other lessons do you think can be learned from The 777 Tour? Let us know in the comments.
Written by Jalika Conteh, recent graduate of Emerson College’s Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) graduate program.