The PR industry is normally anti-hype, relying on valuable and honest messaging to earn exposure; but publicity stunts are the one big exception. Although they’re not a common tactic for most PR pros because of the planning, budgets and risk involved, publicity stunts can be an effective way to get a lot of attention really quickly – when they are successful.
So, are these flash-in-the-pan ploys for attention a good idea for marketing your brand?
It depends on your goals and how you want to relate to your audience. If a blast of quick exposure that gets everyone talking but quickly fizzles is all you need, then a PR stunt may do the trick. If you’re more concerned with long-term, ongoing relevance, there are better options. Creating content as a resource for your audience, for example, can continually demonstrate your value over time.
Brands may consider a combination of both as the best solution – a stunt as a tactic for a specific product launch or announcement, and a larger communications strategy that engages the audience and builds trust over time. Either way, if publicity stunts are a tactic you’re thinking about, there are four key issues to consider before moving forward.
In addition to helping build awareness for Healthcare.gov with President Obama on Between Two Ferns, comedy site Funny or Die also recently gave us the HUVr board. First, fake company, HUVr, claimed to have invented a real hoverboard, similar to the craft seen in the film Back to the Future, and its video demonstrating the craft immediately went viral. However, it was the shock of the announcement that Funny or Die was actually behind the hoax that really gained exposure for the site.
Playing off the media frenzy, an unapologetic apology video was then released, informing viewers that the HUVr board had been autographed and was going to be given away on Facebook via the post’s comments. As of this blog’s posting, the Facebook post has more than 44,000 comments as entries.
The elaborate stunt certainly got people talking, but what was the purpose behind the ploy? If site traffic and Facebook comments were the goals, you have to wonder whether the numbers met internal expectations. Did the creation of these videos ultimately benefit anyone, including Funny or Die or its audience? Was the use of resources – time, money, planning – worth the return?
These are questions you must ask yourself before moving forward with any kind of stunt. Here are some other important things to consider:
Remember that the bigger and more difficult the stunt, the more potential there is for things to go wrong.
The cool factor for PR and marketing stunts may definitely be high, but so are the risks. If it falls flat, you’ve invested a lot of time and money for little or no attention. Alternatively, if it goes wrong and goes down in history as a major fail, people will talk about it, but it will associate your brand negatively with the audience. Do you believe in bad publicity?
Naturally, major feats usually require a major budget. Beyond funds for materials to pull it all together, careful planning and logistics, communication with participants and media, location and timing are also major components – and it’s unlikely you can do it all by yourself. Be sure you’re thinking through the full scope of the project before committing.
When attempting PR stunts to gain attention, you have to be sure that what you’re promoting is unmistakably tied to it. If people remember the stunt but have no idea who was behind it, what was it all for?
Remember the big episode of Oprah when she gave free cars to everyone in the audience? Great stuff, people talked about it for ages. What kind of car was it?
If you watch the buildup to her announcement, you hear Oprah mention Pontiac G6 several times. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the exciting moment that stuck in people’s mind. It wasn’t said as part of the widely quoted and parodied mantra, “You get a car! You get a car! Every. Body. Gets. A. Car!”
Even with careful planning, the outcome of a stunt can be unpredictable. Consider all of the possible reactions, both positive and negative, to mitigate every risk you can. Is there any way someone could be offended or that your campaign could be dangerous or ill-received? Think about it from everyone’s point of view.
Whether you decide that a publicity stunt is the right move for your brand or not, it is still imperative to have a larger strategy in place.