Progressive PR Movement: Live Aid (Rock Against Famine) and Other Music Campaigns

You are somewhere between the eighties and nineties, and as you drive to school, to work, or to the club, the windows are down and the music is blaring. The wind is blowing into the car, and the mood is right, BUT you need to find the right song.

Right now, “19” is playing on the radio, and had this not been a song about post-traumatic disorder, you would listen. You want something upbeat, something hippity-hoppity so you flip the dial again and now “My Name Is Luka” is playing. You like the song, but you don’t want to be a killjoy, so you flip again only to find “Runaway Train” playing.

It’s Friday, and all you wanna do is have some fun, but the tunes on the radio are constant reminders of real life issues before society. So, you ride in silence and take in the peace before the weekend madness.

Even though thought-provoking and sometimes sober, there is a place in music culture to promote social awareness.

Beyond Woodstock and the summer of love….

Almost twenty years before, millions gathered in Upstate New York for a weekend extravaganza of music. More than just a festival, Woodstock was the pinnacle event that defined a decade marked by social upheaval.

Unlike Woodstock which raised money for a private venture, Live Aid, occurring some twenty years later, focused on not only raising awareness for famine in Ethiopia but also on actually generating enough income to aid Ethiopians.

How did Sir Bob Geldof convince millions around the world to care about people living an existence so far removed from their own?

More than viewing this venture as a charity cause in which money would miraculously fix the problem, Geldof approached the problem from a hands-on approach by actively engaging in the public’s needed to affect change.

The concert that would be called Live Aid actually began with Band Aid. As a part of a campaign to raise money for the famine crisis in Africa, Band Aid was the brainchild of Midge Ure and Geldof. Geldof and Ure organized a super group made up of superstar singers from around the world. The studio session during November of 1984, when completed, culminated in the wildly successful “Feed the World” single generating millions to aid the hunger crisis in Africa and becoming a jumping off point for the concert that came later the next year.

Geldof organized Live Aid with the same goal in mind—generating enough money to aid the Ethiopian hunger crisis in a real way. However, this campaign was not just a group of acts headlining a concert. Geldof, in many ways, wrote the manual on PR for progressive projects.

What tenets of PR did Geldof adopt?

First, Geldof focused his efforts on targeting and attracting the publics he would need to actually affect change. These publics were singers and acts that contributed to both the single and the concert, private philanthropists, government agencies, and the public at-large.

Second, Geldof used music and media by:

  • Actually traveling to the affected areas in Africa and providing visual evidence of this catastrophic famine. This famine had been televised in the news for a few years before Geldof brought to the international stage. Whether dealing with the national stage or those he needed to help with charity, this footage was the catalyst that influenced high-profile entertainers to commit to a project of this type.
  • Geldof used music to engage his audience. In fact, this would not be the first time that music would be used to convey social or political ideas. Naturally, people listen to music on their own. However, when the singers organized for Band Aid and then subsequently for Live Aid the following summer, the issue was more than just publicity or listening to music. Acts from around the world played in both Philadelphia and London in the summer of 1985 to raise awareness for this cause and effectively raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the famine effort.

So, was Geldof effective in campaigning for famine relief in Africa?

Some argue over whether the overall campaign was successful. However, in terms of PR, Geldof’s efforts managed to capture the attention of world to the plight of Ethiopians and Africa.


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