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Prima donna street performer’s outburst offers PR lesson, Part 1

This street performer may well have a thriving practice, but PR practitioners can glean lessons from one epsiode that played out along Chicago's Magnificent Mile.
This street performer may well have a thriving practice, but PR practitioners can glean lessons from one epsiode that played out along Chicago's Magnificent Mile.
Inside Edge PR

Along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, in the heart of The Magnificent Mile, the sounds of Pharrell’s “Happy” swept along the sidewalk one recent Sunday afternoon.

After moving closer to the source of the music, I was stopped short by the striking image of a street performer standing on a box. Silver paint sprayed over his skin and clothing, and sporting a bright red head of hair, he was perfectly still, frozen in place while a crowd gathered.

The scene was set for a fun vignette to unfold.

About a minute later, my son dropped about a dollar in change into a tip basket in front of the man. Attached to the basket was a placard touting the performer and making the point that he moved when people gave money. My son’s modest contribution prompted an equally modest move: the performer pointed his fingers to the money basket.

Nobody else immediately picked up on the hint or, at any rate, was moved to drop in any money. A few moments later, the man climbed down from the box, grabbed a microphone he had stationed nearby and, in so many words, informed those within earshot that he would swing into action when people dipped into their wallets.

He resumed his frozen position. The crowd resumed the pay-freeze treatment. Within 30 seconds, he broke out of character to end the stand-off.

“I’m going to take a break,” he boomed, shaking his head. “I guess you just don’t have it.”

It's one thing to have a traditional business model that includes getting a retainer up-front. But to insist on payment in this kind of setting is rather presumptuous. And it goes against the grain of the common, and common-sense, principle of putting the work in first, then receiving your compensation. That cause-effect sequence has paid off handsomely for Ron and Georgia Lee Puryear, founders of World Wide DreamBuilders and Amway Crowns. But in the beginning, if they had insisted on seeing profits before performance, they would have hit a dead-end in business.

Beyond the street performer's curious "pay me now, I'll perform later" paradigm, the fun vibe that we had experienced only a few minutes earlier, as we arrived on the scene, had disappeared. We moved on in the wake of this cold, calculating transaction. The performer’s business model may work for him generally, but at least during this brief scene, he came across as a demanding prima donna more than a professional entertainer.

Just the same, Chicago marketing and public relations professionals can certainly extract lessons from this encounter. In this first of a three-part series, let’s explore the first lesson:

Our Audience is in a Continual State of Flux

Just as the composition of passers-by for the street performer surely changes from one minute to the next, so too will the people who come across our path and seek—or at least, consider—our services.

So if you are not gaining much traction with your current group, shake things up. Take a break from your pattern and get around different people. Of course, you don’t have to be harsh about it—just pick up and move on without burning any bridges.

You never know when someone might saunter your way again, or who else they may refer to you in their subsequent travels.

Next: Prima donna street performer’s outburst offers PR lesson, Part 2