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How to create a brilliant PR stunt

It might not be the newest type of PR activity, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best – the good, old PR stunt can still be a winner when it comes to getting the attention of the nation and its press. One person who keeps an eye out for the best PR stunts around is our own Good and Bad PR writer Shannon Peerless, head of PR at agency 10 Yetis PR. Over her years of studying the types of stunts than generate excellent (and sometimes awful) PR, she appreciates what it takes to produce something that truly stands out and makes people smile. Peerless says: “The thing is, a PR stunt isn’t just as simple as coming up with a fun idea and automatically getting the press to recognise and publicise it.”

Peerless believes that there are tried-and-tested methods that get coverage time and time again: “Up until recently, floating something down the Thames was the go-to (FYI, not so cool now and likely to be mocked). What a celebrity couple’s baby will look like as concept images is another one (we’ve unashamedly done this) and ‘best job in the world’ type announcements too (yep, done that one too).”

Discussing what makes a PR stunt succeed, Peerless says: “In my opinion, a good PR stunt needs to be one (or more) of the following things; visual, clever and reactive. Anything that is going to photograph well or that has good video content to support it is going to help a PR stunt along in the coverage stakes (hence why aforementioned floating stuff down the Thames activity worked well previously). A ‘clever’ stunt is one that I would define as making other brands and PROs think ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ or one where the beauty is in the simplicity of it all; like Madame Tussauds putting its waxwork of Donald Trump outside the new US embassy when he cancelled his visit to London to open it.

"A good PR stunt needs to be one (or more) of the following things; visual, clever and reactive"

“This is also the perfect example of a reactive stunt, because it ties straight back into the current news agenda, which boosts a stunt’s success. Other notable reactive stunts were the ‘Drummond Puddle Watch’, a live periscope feed of people jumping over a puddle after heavy rainfall (set up by Newcastle marketing agency Drummond Central) and two web developers who set up after the PM said the naughtiest thing she’d ever done was run through fields of wheat as a child. Great profile for them!”

Peerless also believe that PR stunts that cause chaos are generally a good thing, despite the flak they may get: “Take the EA launch of Mercenaries 2 game, where the £20k fuel giveaway caused gridlock traffic, or the Betfair octopus stunt that did the same. Then there was the Colgate toothbrush exchange at St Pancras that caused chaos and a shed load of coverage.”

In terms of stunts that fail, Peerless says that any PR effort that is overtly promotional for the brand behind it stands less chance of doing well, “so as tempting as it might be to slap logos all over something that might make it into the paper… don’t (or it probably won’t). Piss-poor planning can also make a PR stunt fail, like not being prepared for backlash or eventualities that may or may not occur. Also, no matter how good a PR stunt is, if the execution and sell-in falls short then it’s not going to make waves.

“Similarly, bad timing can make a PR stunt fail, such as trying to sell in a big story when something like a General Election is going on, or doing something which is deemed to be insensitive (whether that be down to timing or ethics). Finally, when running a PR stunt it’s important to check if anything has been done that was too similar, because journalists might choose not to run something if it’s a bit of a copycat idea.”

Four tips for creating great stunts

Rich Leigh, founder of agency Radioactive PR, says that all great creative stunts need these four key attributes: 

1. The stunt or creative campaign should be easily explainable in a sentence. Often, that’s all you have to grab a journalist, producer or Twitter user’s attention. If you can’t explain the campaign in a sentence, simplify. Then simplify some more. Still doesn’t work? It’s probably not worth pursuing.

2. It should relate to the product/service it’s aiming to promote. This is a big one, and something few campaigns succeed in doing. I’ve seen plenty of great ideas that might get millions of views or shares, or is shortlisted for various industry awards, but if there’s no tie-back to the client, or a reason for people to link the two, you’ve failed and ultimately, your client or business has wasted money, because they won’t see a return.

3. It should have clear objectives. Who do you want to care? Why will they care? What reaction do you want – sales, enquiries, awareness? How will you measure this – share of voice? Increase in enquiries/sales (Google Goals is a great way to track this, this blog shows you how)?

Every good campaign inspires thought or debate, shocks or entertains, or, very simply, highlights your client’s service or product and sells it. Reach your intended audience, whether this is mass-market or not.

4. It should be visual. Every single campaign needs supplementary images or video. I would say ‘especially in these social media-focused times’, but thinking about it, this has always been the case. Factor this in at the stage of coming up with campaign ideas – consider: how can we visually promote this campaign? If a journalist or producer asks for images or videos, what do we have to give them?

Case study

A stunt with Benefit

One original stunt that caught our eye was from cosmetics firm Benefit that hit London on 30 January. Pink astronauts could be seen walking around the capital, on Millennium Bridge, the London Underground, and on Carnaby Street. The astronauts were publicising the brand’s space-inspired product, that launched globally on 1 February.

Discussing where the idea came from and the results achieved by this stunt, Liz Beardsell, senior events manager at Benefit, says: “We were inspired by our newest gravity-defying mascara, BADgal BANG! containing aero particles, which are the lightest raw materials known to man and commonly used in space technology. We brought this to life via our team of pink Benefit astronauts which we let loose in London. This, teamed with the upcoming launch of the space-pod experience which tours Manchester, Cardiff and Bluewater Shopping Centre between 2 and 4 February, will ensure that everyone can take part in something out-of-this-world whilst trialling the new mascara. In terms of results, not only are we building a huge amount of buzz ahead of the product launch, but we are also driving brand awareness by taking a launch outside of the beauty pages.”

 We also asked Beardsell for her views on what makes a great stunt

 Do you need a high budget for a good stunt? “The success of a PR stunt is not necessarily determined by budget, but rather a strategic idea launched within cultural moments which have media cut-through. A good example of this was when we launched the Brows & Beauty Drive Thru, which was the UK’s first beauty and brows drive-through. We engaged festival-goers as they were driving to Glastonbury, gifting them festival survival kits and doing brow waxes! We knew the road into Glastonbury would be busy and that to actually activate something on the Glastonbury site would be costly, not to mention, overcrowded with other brand “noise”. Our activity made us stand out from the rest, tapped into something we knew media would be reporting on, and helped us build brand awareness amongst our target audience – and all within budget!“

Does a good stunt need to be original? “Definitely. There also needs to be an undertone of the brand ethos in every PR stunt to make it both original and authentic. For Benefit, this is all about taking it to the people of the UK, making them feel as though they are part of the ‘United Kingdom of Benefit’. Last year we did this with the Benefit Brow Mobile Tour, where we travelled the length of the country with the first ever brow bar on wheels. Also in 2017, we invited consumers to ‘take a brows into 1976’ – the year Benefit was born – with our 70s’ themed pop-up in London and Liverpool. Both these campaigns – and everything we do – were highly original as they laddered back to our distinct brand personality. As long as this is at the core of what we do then we’ll always be original.”

What is the secret of getting the media to notice a stunt? “For a stunt to be truly impactful the idea must have a strong narrative that can be easily reflected in high-impact images and video content. Our recent out-of-this-world astronaut stunt, which helped to celebrate the launch our space-themed mascara, BADgal BANG!, instantly drew attention and intrigue both in press and the public.”

Do you find it hard to make a stunt part of an integrated campaign? "The most successful stunts are part of an integrated campaign, which have a clear message that can be relayed to consumers succinctly through all channels from in-store to online to social. It’s very rare that we’ll do a one off stunt separate to any wider campaign and the reason for that is simply because, for a consumer, it can be confusing if they don’t see consistency across different touchpoints.”

It may not be easy, and it isn’t always cheap, to create an original spectacle that gets everyone talking, but the results in terms of publicity and ultimately, sales, make a great stunt well worth the investment in time and money.

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