5 tips for creating a powerful PR stunt

LUCY BLACKMAN   •   MAY 5, 2017


With the meteoric rise of social media in recent years and its potential for generating viral campaigns, we have seen more and more brands turning to PR stunts as a means of influencing public perception and attracting media coverage. However, long-serving communications professional and newly-appointed director of customer experience at John Lewis, Peter Cross, has spoken out against the traditional PR stunt this week.

In his keynote address on ‘The infectious power of creativity’, he commented “If I had one pet hate in the PR industry toolkit, it would be the stunt”, referring specifically to five-person surveys, staged photographs and people pretending to have a “fabulous time in the middle of the city”. His words are a valuable reminder of the risks involved in adopting a ‘stunt-for-stunt’s sake’ approach. Nevertheless, when planned carefully in line with a business’ key messages and overall objectives, creative PR stunts can add real value to a brand and its reputation. We’ve listed our top five tips for creating a powerful publicity stunt that drives engagement and wins all-important media coverage.

1. Relevance

When planning a PR stunt, it goes without saying that businesses will want to come up with an original concept that allows them to stand out from their competitors. However, during the planning process it is essential that companies are also clear about whether and how a particular stunt reflects their key values and messages. In order to increase brand awareness and perception, a media moment should be easily associated with a particular business as well as being memorable for all the right reasons. For example, while creating the world’s largest Victoria sponge would be a logical choice of stunt for a cake company, it would make little sense for a financial services firm to do the same.

2. Potential for generating conversation

Social media networks and micro-blogging sites such as Facebook and Twitter have made it easier than ever for people to spread ‘word of mouth’ by sharing, re-sharing and commenting on engaging content online. One great example of a brand tapping into the power of a viral campaign is the Salvation Army’s use of the blue and black vs. white and gold dress debate to cleverly draw attention to the issue of domestic abuse. As well as driving social engagement, the campaign was also hugely successful in catching the attention of the national media.

3. Shareability

As well as the need to produce quality content which drives debate and reinforces a brand’s key messages, ensuring campaigns are easily integrated with social channels will allow businesses to maximize reach and increase the likelihood of a story ‘going viral’. Encouraging members of the public to make use of the company’s Twitter handle and a carefully-chosen hashtag when sharing content is key to getting a PR stunt trending and also provides a useful means of measuring performance post-campaign.

4. Humour

It is no coincidence that humour is an element shared by many successful PR stunts. The Motor Neurone Disease Association made effective use of humour to deliver a serious message in its 2014 ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ campaign, which encouraged people to film themselves pouring a bucket of ice-cold water over their head and nominate their friends to do the same. With numerous celebrities supporting the cause by sharing their attempts online, the campaign was successful in raising awareness of motor neurone disease as well as hundreds of millions of pounds for charity. The stunt demonstrates the power of humour to capture the public’s imagination and draw attention to an organisation’s causes.

5. Timing is everything!

Season, time of day, a business’ calendar and the news agenda can all have a massive impact on a PR stunt’s impact and effectiveness, so it’s essential that these are carefully considered to enhance target audience reception and increase the likelihood of media pick-up. By combining careful planning and creativity in equal measures, PR stunts can still prove a valuable tool for driving conversation and shaping public perception both on and offline.

Benjamin Thomas