Country music legend Johnny Cash’s greatest hit was his 1969 song titled, A Boy Named Sue. The song was recorded live at San Quentin Prison. Cash won a Grammy for Best Country Song and it hit number one on the country billboard and number two on the pop billboard (ironically Honky Tonk Women by the Rolling Stones was #1). More than 45 years later, the song prevails as the greatest public relations song ever recorded. To listen to A Boy Named Sueis to learn public relations.
1. TITLE: Any man named Sue is going to get attention, even in today’s culture. A Boy Named Sue grabs your attention and imagination. It hooks and draws you in to learn more. Public relations must have a hook to draw your attention in a sea of distractions and information overload.
2. STORY: The song tells a story about a three-year old boy whose father left him with a “guitar and an empty bottle of booze, but before he left, his father named him Sue.” Sue swore revenge to kill the man who gave him that awful name. The human race counts on stories to give us guidance. Public relations is about telling a story that teaches, informs and educates audiences.
3. VENUE: Johnny Cash was an outlier not just for his rockabilly beat, but for breaking down barriers. He would turn his back to his audience as he played and he was the first to play and record live in prisons. Folsom Prison and San Quentin Prison were ground breaking in his day. Cash, only have read the song a few times, decided to sing it live for his San Quentin album. If you watch the video, A Boy Named Sue, you will notice Cash reading as he sings it. The venue added edge, energy and media hook that catapulted the song into American music history.
4. AUDIENCE: Prisons house criminals. A Boy Named Sue and the themes of revenge and fighting for self-respect spoke to the prisoners of San Quentin.
5. MESSAGE: Words matter in public relations. The message in the A Boy Named Sue resonated with the prisoners, and eventually Americans. The images of being an outcast, an outsider, and an underdog, fighting for self-respect struck a chord beyond the walls of San Quentin. This power of creating images with words is at the heart of public relations.
6. CREDIBILITY: Johnny Cash was known as the “Man in Black”. Although, he never did any hard time in prison, he had spent several nights in various jails. His reputation as the humble bad boy, gave A Boy Named Sue credibility. In public relations the spokesperson, representative or organization must have credible character in order to establish trust, reinforce perspectives or change points of view.
7. POINT OF VIEW: Sue finally finds his father. After an all-out fight, Sue draws his gun to shoot his father dead. Before he fires, his father revealed the reasoning as to why he named him Sue. After giving a parable, Sue’s father concludes, “You ought to thank me before I die for the gravel in gut and the spit in your eye, because I’m the Son-of-Bitch who named you Sue.” Sue realized that his father was right and got all “choked up” and threw down his gun and called him Pa and came away with a “different point of view.” We, the people, are always looking for facts friends and opinions that reaffirm our beliefs and attitudes. As public relations professionals, we are charged with keeping audiences on the reservation or changing their perspectives. In a life or death situation, Sue discovers he had his dad figured all wrong and embraces the man who gave him that awful name.
A Boy Named Sue is without question one of the greatest anthems of public relations. The song’s message is as timeless as human history. Still, naming your boy Sue is just cruel and worse than a PR pro saying NO COMMENT to the media.
About Patrick Slevin
Patrick Slevin is a motivational and communications professional leading his firm, SL7 Communications. Patrick is a former mayor, Fortune 500 manager, national trade association director and international agency executive. As a “special projects consultant”, Patrick identifies, designs, and implements innovative solutions for his clients.
For the last 12 years, corporate leaders from around the country have retained Patrick for his strategic counsel, campaign leadership and organizational solutions.
For more information go to www.PatrickSlevin.com.
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