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How to pull off a PR stunt

Anyone who has worked in a PR consultancy will recall the sight of nervous furrowed brows at a brainstorming meeting as people struggle to think up the next award-winning PR stunt to win a pitch or to impress a client with an idea for next year’s campaign.

The opportunity to go “viral” with a creative stunt can pay back dividends if it appeals to the public imagination. Who had ever heard of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis before the 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Whilst the act of dumping a bucket of ice over one's head and nominating three others to do the same seemed a bit odd, raising $115 million towards medical research was certainly not.

Another social media/PR stunt success story is the more recent Tinder "meltdown" that took place on Twitter. The company's official Twitter feed  bombarded followers with a 31-tweet tirade in response to an article about the company in Vanity Fair entitled, “Tinder and the dawn of the Dating Apocalypse".

Whilst originally appearing to be nothing more than an ill-advised rant towards a Vanity Fair article, it quickly gained a massive amount of popularity whilst highlighting some of the main benefits of Tinder. It actually seems as if this so-called "rant" was actually a well-played marketing coup.

Of course some stunts can go horribly wrong. The Labour party PR adviser who thought up the idea of giving shadow chancellor John McDonnell a copy of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book to throw at George Osborne during the autumn statement debate can surely testify. When Osborne opened the book and quipped that it was Mr McDonnell’s “personal signed copy”, his embarrassment was complete and the media were quick to move into a bad-news feeding frenzy.

But the use of social media is now one of the top ways to pull off a successful public relations stunt. The obvious benefit is that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are visited by literally billions of users each day. However, there is another reason why social media is of prime importance in terms of public relations.

The key word here is "public". There is simply no better way to interact with a target audience. As opposed to a traditional stunt and data that may take days to compile, a business can now see how their campaign is performing in a real-time scenario. This will help to address questions such as:

  • Is our feedback positive or negative?
  • Have we alienated a specific audience?
  • How are other companies reacting?
  • Have our sales increased during this time period?

Not only can rapid adjustments be made if necessary, but this type of insight would not be possible with other methods.

The bottom line is that with so many different advertising campaigns in existence, the audience is becoming more enticed by "shock" value than ever before. So, it only makes sense that the Tinder rant made waves across many virtual communities. We should expect the combination of social media and PR campaigns to increase in both complexity and sheer originality.

Article written by Mark Knight, director at PR firm Four Broadgate

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