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The secrets to the perfect PR stunt

Creating a jaw-dropping stunt is a great way to get attention. However, a stunt is only as good as its planning and execution, and there is no point being talked about if none of the conversations mention the brand behind the event. Here are five pieces of advice for anyone planning an awe-inspiring stunt.

1. Make it memorable

Juliet Cameron, director at communications agency Launch: “A good stunt creates a conversation that lives beyond coverage. By its nature, a stunt is short-lived, so it has to be a shareable 'water-cooler moment'. A forgettable flash-in-the-pan isn't going to do much for any brand. And if people don't want to capture and share the stunt with their mates, it hasn't hit the mark.

“Stunts used to be all about the picture. But whilst creating an iconic still image remains important for picture desks, the best stunts today have to do more. They need to amaze, entertain, impress or surprise. And they have to deliver in different media – shareable images for social, a big picture that will work in print, videos that can be embedded and shared.

“Start from a great idea with a simple creative narrative, make sure your planning is brilliant and your timings precise, and keep the brand at the forefront. And leave nothing to chance.”

2. Be part of the conversation

Joni Roome, senior account executive at marketing agency PrettyGreen: “If you want to create a PR stunt people will talk about and share with friends then it needs be a part of the conversation. We always position the brand as a servant, and a servant doesn’t try and start a conversation about a new type of bread, but rather suggests ways to improve your favourite sandwich.

“When brainstorming ideas, it’s important to not just think of a picture story because in a super-fast online world, the ‘build-it-big’ idea might be an out-of-date meme your auntie posts to your Facebook feed.

“A PR stunt is not just a floating beach ball on the Thames, but also a deceptive AI Tinder bot that lures people to premieres. Disruption can take many forms, but insight should always be at the heart. So…

–   Check Twitter, stalk Instagram and mine reddit for trends.
–   Don’t get caught out (of date) with your content.
–   Add to the conversation – don’t barge in!”

3. Make sure it works online

Emma Streets, head of social media at marketing agency CreativeRace: “Stunts are increasing in popularity again – but for best results, the format has changed. Now, the opportunity, and for some brands, the challenge – is to create experiences that can translate across online as well as offline channels. Often stunts receive coverage in the marketing industry press more than anywhere else, so to ensure that you’re reaching objectives for your clients, the focus must be on ensuring that creative ideas are as integrated as possible with other channels. Combining social media action, influencers plus on-the-ground activity undoubtedly has the greatest impact. Stress-testing concepts against the customer journey and linking them to ongoing campaigns, rather than being random acts of creativity, is more important than ever to achieve maximum returns on the time and energy investment that a successful stunt demands."

4. Create disruption

Natalie Lintern, business director at communications agency W: “The success of a stunt hangs in not actually thinking of it as a stunt in any way, shape, or form. “When a brief calls for one, what it’s really asking for is disruption. To challenge people to stop, think, and act. Over the years, the idea of a publicity stunt has morphed into bigger and bigger executions; do or die, flash-in-the pan moments that often involve vast sums of money.

“But, bigger doesn’t always equal better, and it certainly doesn’t necessarily equate to genuine ‘disruption’.Rather than chasing column inches for column inches’ sake, true ‘disruption’ – and the even more elusive ‘talkability’ – is borne out of robust analysis of your target audience, the business objectives and challenges to identify an idea that speaks to the people you’re trying to motivate with a clear message and compelling conviction.

“The stunt ‘moment’ should therefore always be a small component of a much bigger campaign that, when added together, is more than the sum of its parts. From experiential installation, to a compelling piece of research, to content amplification and influencer engagement, the most effective stunts are carefully calibrated to reach as many people as possible, with the right message, via the channels they consume.”

  5. Plan for disaster

Claire Thompson, consultant at Waves PR, discusses how you need to plan for the unexpected and ask yourself what might go wrong: “Can the brand sit with people’s wrath if the stunt has disrupted travel or peace or defiled somewhere they hold dear? How could someone get hurt, and what have you done to minimise the risk?

“If you’ve ordered pyrotechnics for the day that an event like Grenfell happens, or an artificial tidal wave on the day a real one hits, who will make the decision to pull?

“Whilst publicity is important, whatever anyone says, there is such a thing as bad publicity. Details will kill or cure – whatever anyone tells you, there is such a thing as bad publicity.”

As W’s Lintern points out, "Journalists and the public are savvy enough to see through a stunt that doesn’t tell a story and doesn’t naturally support the message for the target audience.” As with any other PR endeavour, the golden rule for a great stunt is make sure it is relevant. But if you have something worth saying, or even better shouting about, then go for it!

No story, no stunt!

Christina Peach, account manager at communications agency FleishmanHillard Fishburn, spells out the secrets of a great stunt with examples and explains all stunts need to support a good story:

S – Stunt: The most nerve-racking moment in any PR’s career, but it doesn’t need to be. A stunt is a visual representation of the story you’re telling and should be part of a wider campaign. Never start a brainstorm with the words “we need to create a stunt” – eggs in one basket, springs to mind!

T – Thames: Chuck it down the Thames. This ‘go-to’ idea still seems to float, but to be honest, only if you’re Airbnb or Lego

U – Underwater: If you can’t float it…sink it! Last year we tried and tested the first waterproof Fitbit with underwater ballroom dancers #strictlyfinal #guaranteedcoverage

N – News hook: Don’t forget to be timely! When we heard a new pound coin was about to drop, who better to own that conversation than Poundland! Turns out, what the nation really wanted to see on the flipside of our new quid was Bowie and fish’n’chips – sorry your Maj!

T – Tragic celebrities: Avoid rent-a-celeb at all costs, last year’s celebrity, reality TV show runner up probably won’t land national coverage or boost the rep your client is after, unless you’re working with Steps, Blue or Mystic Meg…who doesn’t love 90’s nostalgia!? Just make sure the brand fits.

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