28 September 2016
Caroline Walker, Account Director

PR stunts: When are they just a gimmick?

Kelly Brook

PR and marketing stunts can fill some brands and agencies with fear. A lot of involvement can ride on one potentially big budget activity. Get it right and the whole world will remember you for your ingenious campaign, with a lasting legacy for years to come. Get it wrong and you can face ridicule, or, even not get noticed and slipping under the radar.

Our team at Westgate has been organising high impact PR stunts for years, so here are our top tips for creating a stunt that will leave the media and your customers remembering you for a fantastic initiative (and competitors kicking themselves for not getting there first!):

  • Keep it visual – A picture tells a thousand words and you can communicate so much about your brand with one image. Strong images always work best for press and social media. If the pictures are good, the media are likely to keep them on file and use them time and again, featuring alongside future news stories relating to the brand, as happened with the photo call we organised with Kelly Brook for DFDS Seaways
  • Keep it simple – It’s easy to over-complicate ideas, trying to shoehorn in all of your key messages. However, when it comes to executing a stunt, simplicity is vital, as you need people to understand what you are trying to communicate instantly.
  • Keep it “on brand” – While you can create fantastically visual stunts that create a buzz, if it is not connected with your company’s products, services or values then it does nothing to secure your brand’s position in the market.
  • Keep it relevant – It’s easy to pick the latest trend, from Pokémon GO! to reality television stars, and use this as the focus of your campaign. Surely if everyone’s talking about it you’ll be talked about too?! However, if there is no obvious connection between your brand and the trend you are piggy-backing on, it may look like you are just trying to jump on the band wagon, which will discredit your brand and its values.
  • Timing! – This can make or break a stunt. If you try to go ahead with a stunt just as a major news story breaks, there is the risk that you will get lost. As frustrating as it is, if there’s a chance your story will be eclipsed, it may be worth postponing your stunt to take place at a better time and create a bigger impact.

Some of our favourite stunts include:

We’re here – To commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, artist Jeremy Deller worked together with the National Theatre to create a moving tribute to the fallen soldiers. More than 1,400 young male actors dressed in military uniforms from the First World War and gathered in central venues, including Waterloo Station, to sing the haunting trench song “We’re here because we’re here”. Sitting somewhere between installation art and a flash mob, this stunt was kept secret until soldiers collected at numerous popular locations across the length and breadth of Britain. Poignant and public, videos of the soldiers went viral and conversation across social media and traditional press brought the memory of the Somme into the 21st century.

Madame Tussauds – Another nifty stunt that attracted national media attention was a very timely piece of news hijacking from that most visual of brands – Madame Tussauds. Amidst the recent media frenzy about the split of Brangelina, the most iconic of celebrity couples, the team at Madam Tussauds staged the most simple of stunts: it re-positioned the models of Brad and Ange so that they were facing away from each other and then issued the picture to generate widespread coverage.

KFC – Encouraging Americans to wear sunscreen during the summer and also to promote its new “Extra Crispy Chicken”, the fast-food chain created a fried chicken scented sun cream. This isn’t the first time the brand has ventured into the health and beauty market. It launched its “finger lickin’ good” nail varnish range in May 2016, which tasted like the chain’s original recipe. However, with 3,000 tubes of the sun cream snapped up by fans within two hours of the launch and press coverage including USA Today and British newspapers such as The Independent, the Colonel’s cleaned up here.

Less successful PR stunts include:

Jackpotjoy.com sailing a duck on the river Thames – This 2012 stunt has gone down in PR history as one of the most high profile and elegantly simple stunts of all time, having won numerous industry prizes but very few can remember what brand was behind it! It’s such a shame as the online bingo website used the stunt to launch its Facebook bursary scheme, however, the story and brand very much faded behind the memory of the stunt.

U2 takes over iTunes – Instead of releasing its album “Songs of Innocence”, the Irish band “forced” its music onto 500 million unsuspecting users of iTunes. U2 fell foul of thinking it was so loved that everyone would be grateful to receive its new music for free, however, “the biggest release in the history of music” became one of the most provocative. The band was met with a backlash in the press and on social media. Consequently, Apple had to release a patch enabling users to remove the music in one-click.

If you’re interested in making a statement with a stunt, get in touch! 01732 779 087 | info@westgatecomms.com


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