Embrace the chaos. 9 old school marketing and PR rules you can break for better results


Sharon Tanton

Sharon is Content Director at Cohesive, and co-author of Valuable Content Marketing | Fascinated by the power of stories in making change | Loves gardening | Lives in Bristol

Andy Williams

Co-founder, the wordy 'other half' | Intrigued by good content, and what it achieves | Bit of a nerd, quite creative, loves to write | Father, cyclist, activist | [ he/him ]

Is there a place where 1 + 1 equals something other than 2? Your teacher told you no – but we say yes. Out there in the real world – not the edged lawns and trimmed hedges world of arithmetic – things are a lot less certain. Never play snakes and ladders with an electron, is our advice, because quantum theory says it’ll occupy every square on the board, all at once. That’s unpredictability at the very small scale. And at the very large, we have chaos. Embrace it!

"Embrace the chaos."

Sharon Tanton

Not as in Jägerbombs + Snakebites chaos. But as in, a short string of tweets by Elon Musk causing a catastrophic swing in Twitter’s market cap. The chaos of a small input causing an unpredictable, but predictably vast, output.

Let’s move this closer to home. The YouTube clip by Jo Nobody that gets 2 million views over a weekend. Who saw that coming? It went viral, you say. Chaos, we reply.

Look behind chaos though and there is an underlying order. Sometimes it’s just a hazy sense of recurring patterns, right at the edges of your perception. But that’s not an illusion. Jo – our instant celebrity from earlier – didn’t have a recipe for viral. There are no rigid rules. But listen closely and there’ll be the faint but unmistakable sound of Jo ripping up a rulebook, in a vaguely coherent, repeatable way.

"Listen closely, and there's the sound of a rulebook ripped up in a vaguely coherent, repeatable way."

Andy Williams

OK, enough theory. If you want your content to have more bang for buck, or even go viral, what rules could you look to break? What marketing and PR wisdom – the beliefs and practices that govern the way you share a story with the world – should you knowingly ditch?

Traditional rules provide a foundation, but many of them can be bent or broken in a methodical way, to great effect.

Embrace the chaos

Here’s a handful of old school marketing and PR rules that we think are ripe for a challenge.

1 | Rule: You need a slick sales pitch
Break it: Prioritise storytelling and value creation

We’re all so over being sold to. So forget the polished elevator pitch, instead, prioritise storytelling and value creation. Craft narratives that connect emotionally with your audience, highlighting the benefits and value your products or services bring to their lives.

2 | Rule: Only show your best side
Break it: Your imperfections are what make you relatable

In a world of filtered beauty and curated sound bites, the real messy truth is what makes you interesting. Embrace your idiosyncrasies. Share the whole story, warts and all.

3 | Rule: There are good days to bury bad news
Break it:  Embrace real time transparency

Failure is part of life and part of business. Engage in honest conversations with your audience, even when it involves the bad or difficult stuff.  Embrace transparency, address concerns openly, and use criticism as an opportunity to improve. Listening well and responding thoughtfully to feedback will nurture loyal long term fans.

4 | Rule: The right words are everything
Break it: It’s how you say it that counts

Presentation matters as much, if not more, than the content. That means thinking about where your words appear – e.g. in design + brand terms, and also how someone says those words out loud. Give your spokespeople the confidence to think on their feet and talk naturally, so your message comes through loud and clear.

5 | Rule: “One-size-fits-all” messaging does the job
Break it: Embrace personalization

Move away from generic messaging and embrace personalisation. Tailor your marketing and PR efforts to specific target audiences, with the help of data-driven insights. By delivering personalised experiences, you can connect with individuals on a deeper level, fostering engagement and loyalty.

6 | Rule: Interruption-based advertising is a good way to grab attention
Break it: Embrace permission-based marketing

Hands up who loves ads that get in the way? Thought so. Shift towards permission-based marketing strategies. Create content that adds value, educates, and engages. Giving people what they want – content that’s helpful, useful, human – in the places they want it – builds stronger relationships.

7 | Rule: Keep a tight control on your brand narrative
Break it: Encourage user-generated content

Loosen the reins on your story. Bring your customers right into the heart of the picture by encouraging and embracing user-generated content (UGC). UGC is a shortcut to authenticity and turns customers into brand advocates. Leverage social media platforms and user reviews to amplify your brand’s reach and build trust with your audience.

8 | Rule: Trust your gut
Break it: Leverage data-driven insights

Generally in life, if it feels wrong, it is wrong, is a good guide. But relying solely on gut feelings and intuition to guide your marketing and PR decisions isn’t enough. Embrace data-driven strategies by leveraging analytics and metrics. Use tools to track campaign performance, understand customer behaviour, and optimise your strategies accordingly. Data-driven insights provide valuable guidance for decision-making, helping you to allocate your resources effectively and achieve better results.

9 | Rule: Marketing and PR are different disciplines so tackle them separately
Break it: Foster collaboration and integration

Break down the silos between marketing and PR teams to create more cohesive and impactful campaigns. Encourage collaboration, shared goals, and open communication. By aligning efforts, you’ll maximise your reach and deliver consistent messaging across channels. Together we’re stronger!


Things are changing fast. Stories flare up and suck all the oxygen out of the room. Channels come and go. Attention spans feel smaller and smaller. So trying to make meaningful connections with your audience in this era of distraction is hard. In uncertain times, the temptation to cling to what you think you know can be powerful. But sometimes it can be more impactful to do the opposite. Embrace experimentation and the learning that goes with it. Combine method with a little ‘madness’ to adapt to the ever changing preferences of your audience. That’s the way to stay ahead of the curve and drive success.

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