In this PR agency, we know good work when we see it. We’ve seen – and done – some really great PR over the past year, from Tourism Ireland’s masterful ‘Game of Thrones’ campaign to our own PRGN award-winning work on behalf of Ford and Continental Tyres, not to mention a huge CSR effort for the seafaring Row A-Round Ireland project. (More about that in 2016.)
As the year draws to a close, however, there is one PR campaign that stands out above all others. At times we have been captivated by it; other times the circus has left us weary and even a little embarrassed. But boy, has it worked. This time last year he was a wannabe, making noise, it seemed, for the sake of making noise. Flash in the pan?
12 months on, he is Ireland’s biggest star – not just Ireland’s biggest sports star but Ireland’s biggest star, period. He is Conor McGregor: fighter, promoter, Dubliner, rock star, soothsayer, world champion and walking, talking, one-man PR juggernaut.
Of the ultra-violent sport that has catapulted McGregor into the spotlight, like many we have our reservations. The UFC is box office television alright, but it has a dark side. (Not for nothing is mixed martial arts still banned in the state of New York, a festering sore point for the organisers – and a looming court battle.)
But of McGregor’s seemingly insatiable appetite and ability to talk himself into the headlines, we are in awe. In barely a year – less than 10 minutes of which he has spent actually fighting – he has become what the UFC has craved since opening for business in 1993: a bona fide European superstar. And aside from those (admittedly impressive) 10 minutes, he has done it all through the power of his own publicity.
Conor McGregor doesn’t merely talk. He proclaims. He makes the sort of wild, occasionally insane pronouncements that simply cannot be ignored; not by opponents, not by the media and certainly not by the viewing public. The buzz created by McGregor ensured that UFC 194 was the most lucrative and most-watched event in the history of the organisation.
Again, the nitty-gritty of the UFC does have a tendency to inspire mixed feelings. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The Aldo/McGregor press conference in Dublin last March, for example, was a particularly unedifying spectacle that left a lot of sports fans feeling a little uncomfortable. But as the former apprentice plumber from Crumlin would tell you, the end justified the means – and handsomely.
PR is all about getting the message out there. As PR agencies, we do it every day on behalf of our clients, trying to make their voices heard above the chatter and clatter of a multitude of media platforms. We measure our efforts in a variety of ways, some more reliable than others, in a bid to show those clients that we are making a positive difference; that we are making the world aware of their brand.
Right now Conor McGregor has the highest brand awareness of any UFC fighter, bar none, and 2016 could conceivably see him become one of the most recognised athletes on the planet. All through the power of his own publicity. Good job. Great PR!