The dark arts of stunt PR

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Do you remember when Stormtroopers marched across London to promote the release of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”? Or when Deliveroo installed a 6-metre wide wall of free burgers in Shoreditch to celebrate their 10-millionth burger delivery in the UK?

These were all successful PR stunts aimed to raise awareness of as many people as possible to a cause or product. These stunts were successful because they combined three key factors: they were bold, memorable, and got high levels of engagement from the public.

If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try a stunt to get people noticing your brand? But, first, let’s start with the basics:

What is stunt PR?

Stunt PR, also known as a publicity stunt or sometimes even a gorilla campaign, is a planned stunt designed to attract as much of the public's attention to the organizers or their cause. Publicity stunts have a long history with being disruptive, but it’s a great tactic for building brand awareness --think of it as the ancient version of viral videos. When done right, they can help your business grow exponentially.

How can stunt PR succeed?

In the PR and comms industry, stunts are not uncommon. But for your stunt to succeed, it will need to be entertaining and engaging, while also having a coherent narrative that integrates well with your overall marketing message. There’s no point in doing a stunt if it’s not relatable or isn’t easily referred back to you.

Most stunts work better when they have a picture or video element associated with them –and if that’s the case you need to resist the temptation to use corporate branding and logos. Credit the audience and media with some intelligence and respect. Great campaigns prompt people to learn more; they will want to know ‘who did this and why?’

Remember Carlsberg’s 'best poster in the world'? Using a slogan is a great example of an effective PR stunt. In 2015, the beer brand unveiled the ‘best poster in the world’ in London’s Brick Lane –a billboard that dispensed free beer. It was an incredibly simple concept, but perfectly on-brand. Unsurprisingly, the stunt generated a lot of interest on social, with #probablythebest generating over 3M Twitter impressions in just one day.

How can stunt PR fail?

A common way for a PR stunt to fail is if no one gets it. When Oprah was still hosting her TV show she attempted to pull a major PR stunt to help promote the Pontiac G6. The talk show host gave away one of the cars to everyone in the audience and said “Pontiac G6” over and over again, but today, hardly anyone remembers what type of car she gave away, they only remember her famous statement “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!”

If the public remembers the stunt but doesn’t understand what you’re promoting, then the stunt isn’t worth it. When you pull a stunt, make sure that the thing or company you are promoting is unmistakably associated with the stunt.

How can stunt PR help your company?

PR in any form is a good way of boosting your company’s social reach and helping you gain more customers. Best of all, it brings about a public awareness on a large scale in a short amount of time.

Fairly unknown/new startups can greatly benefit from stunt PR, not only because you have more room to experiment with your marketing and carry less risk compared to much larger brands, but because the result can bring massive brand awareness to your product or service and drive impressive growth figures.

Are PR stunts pricey?

Sure, they can be. The examples above are from relatively large brands with big marketing budgets. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with some remarkable publicity on a low budget. Remember the good old flash mob? That just took a couple hundred willing participants and a video camera.

Also, social media is a great tool and is a free way of pulling stunts without the high costs of high-end publicity stunts. Utilise the community and followers you’ve built to create a social buzz.

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* This post was originally published in our newsletter The Communications Workshop. Sign up to get more free tips on communications and marketing here!