Richard Cook

Jeff Koons needs no introduction. His larger than life, hyper realistic, pornographic porcelains of him penetrating his lover, giant balloon dogs and gold plaited sculptures of Michael Jackson stroking his monkey have generated headlines around the world. Koons is a household name who has amassed a fortune said to be more than $200m USD. 

I was more than excited when I got the chance to spend the evening with him, not least because I find his work to be aesthetically seductive and sensual, although I was not sure why it exists. 

Koons is important. Very. His works sell for millions at auctionand his reputation precedes him. He is a master of his craft - of many crafts and somewhat enigmatic. I thought he would be intimidating and obscure, I was surprised. I didn’t expect him to be so softly spoken, so seemingly interested in me, in us, in the world, and so humble.  

He also had a lot to say that translates directly to the world of B2B PR and communications. The genius of Koons is hard to define because it is so big, so comprehensive, but here are five key takeaways that I got from him that relate to the art of media relations, particularly for B2B brands. 

Make your audience the centre of the story 

Koons has produced a series of sculptures and paintings which incorporate a bright blue mirror finished metallic sphere. You will have seen it on the shoulder of Hercules, and in the centre of a Titian masterpiece. Koons calls this globe a gazing ball. It literally reflects the art around it and puts the vieweror consumer, in the centre of the reflection, the focal point of the story. Quite literally Koons is attempting to ensure that his work passes the “so what” test, because the work is about the viewer. And we are all only really interested in ourselves, right? 

Successful B2B content campaigns do the same thing, especially if they are to work editorially and generate third-party endorsement. B2B buyers are interested in their problems and issues and how they are going to solve them. The more we can make our client’s target audience the star of the work we do, the more engaging and profitable it will be.  

Tailor your message 

Koons had an exhibition called The Banalities which was promoted via a series of adverts across a range of different publications. For each separate publication he commissioned Greg Gorman, the photographer, to shoot portraits of him specifically with the readership of the publication in mind. Each outlet had its own audience, and each publication got its own content to engage that audience. 

B2B PR campaigns are not a one size fits all environment either. Talking to the channel press, business press, IT press or vertical press means there is often a need to have separate messaging, content, spokespeople, and collateral. The smarter we, as the B2B PR agency, can be in tailoring the storytelling meaning for each audience, the more relevant and engaging we can be.

Your audience completes the story 

Koons spends years on his work researching and finding the right materials and subjects. A sculpture currently in production, The Pink Ballerina, has been worked on by his team for over eight years so far. And yet when it is complete, as an object, Koons recognises that it is only complete as an art form once someone views it, sees it, and consumes it. Koons says, “When the lights of the museum are off the art is still there, but it is meaningless.”  

This is the same with earned media coverage. Those of us in B2B communications and PR know how to generate coverage. Numbers of clippings are not a challenge. It is the emotional response that they have amongst the target audience that is important. Are prospects more likely to take a sales callor open an email? Perhaps they will remember a conversation they had with a company executive three months ago? It is this impact that we, as B2B tech PR people, need to focus on.  

Detail is about respect 

Koons created a series of sculptures in steel, including one of Bob Hope, the American entertainer. He was copying a commercial figurine and changing the scale and material as an artistic expression. When he came to inspect the work that his craftsmen had done, he noticed that the base was not covered in green felt like the original. He felt strongly that it needed to be, regardless of whether anyone would ever see it, for him it was about integrity, authenticity, and trust.  

The world of B2B PR is all about trust. We engineer third-party endorsement to generate trust for technology brands, products, and services with the aim of supporting business objectives. Trust is all about detail, according to Koons. In a world where B2B buyers are grappling with unexpected events, vendors that can generate trust are a step closer to being of service to a prospect. This means getting facts and figures right, ensuring that spokespeople have the information that they need and more, and that brand messaging is based on facts and evidence, not hyperbole.  

Context is key  

Finally, Koons also talks a lot about context. To say that he researches his work is an understatement. Nothing he does is an accident. If it looks simple - a basketball in a tank or a model of an inflatable rabbit, it has almost certainly included input from a Noble Peace Prize winning scientist, the latest CAT Scanning technology and has references to artwork going back over four generations. Koons knows his context and his content is stronger for it. It isn’t improvised but is innovative. It resonates. It matters.  

For a B2B PR campaign to matter, it also needs to connect to the world it needs to impact. Whether this is as simple as choosing a relevant date in the calendar to launch a campaign on, or responding to events in the wider world, context can make or break a campaign’s ability to cut through. 

So, that was my evening with Jeff Koons. Of course, it was not in person. It was via the MasterClass App which has become my favourite lockdown way to broaden my horizons. I didn’t expect Koons’ lesson to be as relevant to my own professional PR life.  

Next up will likely be Ru Paul talking about how to have an impact, Salman Rushdie on storytelling or Gordon Ramsey on what to do with an old trout. If I find any B2B PR tips amongst that lot I will let you know! 

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