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PR in the Ballroom

Published on December 10, 2023, 2:32 p.m.
by Katherine Williams.

“Dancing with the Stars” is the most famous ballroom dancing competition show on American TV with over 32 seasons so far. You may be wondering, how do TV shows establish longevity like it has? A good PR team is crucial in establishing a consistent brand presence in the media.

It takes two to tango

“Dancing with the Stars” pairs celebrities with professional dancers in a ballroom-style dancing competition. Previous celebrity casts have included athletes, actors, reality TV stars and, more recently, social media influencers.

Each week, the couples learn a new dance with a completely new style, and one couple is eliminated from the competition based on their total score for that night. The scoring system consists of the judges’ scores and viewers’ votes.

Adding the viewers’ votes as an element of the show allows DWTS to connect with its audience and establish two-way communication. If the audience does not want a certain couple to continue on the show, their votes play a key part in relaying that message to the production team.

Spinning things up

Photo via Channel Guide Magazine

Since its start in 2005, ratings and viewership have dropped over the years. The DWTS public relations team has worked hard to bring them back up. According to Nielsen, viewership dropped from 16.79 million average total viewers in season 1 to 4.89 million in season 30.

DWTS has switched up its strategies to combat low ratings. For example, during season 15, the show produced an “All-Star” season where it featured couples who had previously competed on the show to give them another try at winning the mirrorball trophy.

The show has also produced a spin-off called “Dancing with the Stars Juniors” airing for only one season, where child stars paired up with junior professional dancers, and adult pro dancers from the original DWTS show choreographed their dances.

It is important to keep your target audience engaged by creating new elements for a show. Fans may get bored if each season does not adapt and change in some way or form. PR practitioners need to stay true to the brand’s history while also creating new ways for the audience to enjoy it.

The streaming era

For many years the competition has been broadcast on ABC in primetime Monday or Tuesday night slots. In 2022 for season 31, DWTS switched to streaming on Disney+ exclusively, and it was the first live show to air on Disney+. That year, the show stopped airing on ABC completely. While this partnership seems like a smart move for the digital age, DWTS left behind its older target audience who still use cable or satellite TV services.

But, this year for season 32, the show now streams live on Disney+ and airs live on ABC on Tuesday nights. DWTS’ PR team knows the power of such partnerships but also found the importance of catering to all of its audience. It’s imperative to evolve but also to meet your audience where they are.

Trouble in the ballroom

Photo via Good Housekeeping

DWTS is no stranger to negative feedback. Some of the more recent criticism arose when the host of the competition, Tom Bergeron, left the show.

Bergeron hosted the show from the very beginning and did so for a total of 28 seasons. Bergeron and longtime co-host Erin Andrews departed from the show in 2020. DWTS chose Tyra Banks to host seasons 29-31, and Alfonso Ribeiro joined as co-host in season 31.

After Bergeron left, some fans were not only upset about his exit but also were unhappy with the new host. Many viewers took to social media to express their opinions about Banks’ awkward comments to the celebrity dancers or her own mess-ups on the show.

This year for season 32, host Tyra Banks left the show and stated she wants to “focus on new business opportunities.” DWTS chose Ribeiro to move up as main host and hired former DWTS pro dancer Julianne Hough as the new co-host this season. Fans have shown support for the new hosts.

These changes show that DWTS producers listen to fans’ feedback and prove the importance of social media scanning. If PR professionals ignore social media commentary, they miss a chance to engage with their audience and create positive PR.

Romance on the dance floor

Throughout the years, fans have fueled rumors of couples dating while on the show. There have been many unconfirmed relationships but also many who “found love.”

This year’s rumored couple is celebrity Harry Jowsey and pro dancer Riley Arnold. The couple was seen having a close relationship and holding hands out in public. Viewers speculate that the couple is faking a relationship to gain publicity for themselves on the show.

We all know that social media users pick apart images and make assumptions from there. But, if Jowsey and Arnold are faking a relationship, it will not bring them or DWTS producers any positive publicity. PR professionals know that is it important to show your brand as credible and transparent, and PR stunts when found out by the viewing public shine a negative light.

Diversity and inclusion

In recent years, DWTS has shown more diversity and inclusion in the show.

In 2021, for season 30, celebrity JoJo Siwa was paired with pro dancer Jenna Johnson, and they were the first same-sex couple to compete on “Dancing with the Stars.” Then in season 31, celebrity and drag performer Shangela was paired with pro dancer Gleb Savchenko.

Photo via Radio Times

Your audience needs to be able to resonate with your campaign and cast on a show. Inclusivity broadens connection, which leads to brand loyalty from new viewers.

It’s a 10

“Dancing with the Stars” showcases the power of skilled PR, the importance of embracing change and feedback, and the value of staying true to a brand’s core values. As long as it continues adapting and evolving, DWTS can ensure its place in American television.

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