PR Stunts: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

PR Stunts Can Be Gold Dust For Marketing

PR Stunts: The Good, The Bad, The UglyWhy do companies do these PR stunts, to stand out in the crowd.

That is really what public relations is all about, yes it is communicating a story, but it is about creating a buzz around your brand.

Celebrities have been known to do them, consider Katie Price and her Mucky Mansion, or her bankruptcy in 2019.

PR stunts are planned events that are designed to catch the media’s attention (for the right reasons).

PR stunts can get you instant media attention or even national or international news coverage, which is worth it’s weight in gold!

However if a PR stunt is not done properly, it can have a negative effect on a brand.  Whether your company is a new one or an existing brand, getting your stunt to land right is essential to it being a PR success or a PR flop.

Make A Noise

Launching new products is always good PR. Apple launching the new latest and greatest iPhone is a good way to make a noise.

But it is not exactly a PR stunt, it is more like the bread and butter that companies use to get PR coverage. Most businesses/celebrities do not have the new products to make a noise, so they go into stunts.

If you are a new business (like Hello Fresh or Just Eat) then making a media noise is important, particularly if you are in a crowded market place.

If you have a new business, then making a media noise is just what you want in order to get your audiences attention.

The King Of PR Stunts

We have heard of the King of Pop, but the king of PR stunts has to be Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.

It is thought that the success of the Virgin brand is down to Richards knowledge of marketing and his PR stunts.

Here are a few of the best known PR stunts from Sir Richard:

  • Driving across the channel in an Aqua car and a tuxedo in 2004
  • Flying across the Atlantic in 1998 in a hot air balloon
  • Arriving at a press conference in an astronaut’s suit in 2004 to launch Virgin Galactic
  • Driving a tank down Fifth Avenue NYC in 1998 to launch Virgin Cola
  • Flying a hot air balloon above the London Eye in 1999 saying ‘BA can’t get it up’
  • Hosting the Thames River Party in 1977 playing ‘God Save The Queen’ to launch the Sex Pistol signing

Richard’s use of PR stunts continued for decades to launch and promote many brands of the Virgin Group which all generated the marketing and PR exposure he wanted.

Some PR Stunts Go Wrong

Burger King did one of the worst PR stunts in 2009 whereby it launched ‘Whopper Sacrifice’.

In exchange for a free Whopper, you would be encouraged to delete 10 friends on your Facebook account, which was publicly shared on your Facebook feed.  This resulted in arguments and bad feelings between users.

The advertising slogan was ‘The Whopper Is Stronger Than Friendship’.

Coca Cola also did a very bad PR stunt by changing its iconic drink in 1985 after 99 years of success as it battled the competing Pepsi brand in the Pepsi Challenge.  After 79 days the original recipe was brought back.

Neither Burger King or Coca Cola suffered too much, as media coverage is still media coverage, even if the PR stunt does not work out as it was planned.

PR Stunts In 2019

A great PR stunt that springs to mind is the Burger King advertising campaign hiding a Big Mac behind their Whopper. McDonalds is their biggest rival and they stuck their tongue out, when it was noticed it suddenly became a PR golden nugget.

Katie Price after years of having her son Harvey suddenly comes into the media to approach one of her ex husbands to get ‘more involved’ amid her financial woes.

There would be numerous other examples of how companies and brands use situations to their advantage

A great example would be one of the episodes of Dragons Den aired in 2019. One of the grandchildren of the Cadburys Dynasty approached the dragons for investment into a new chocolate brand. The sticking point was around the entrepreneur using his family name on the brand (since the family are no longer part of the Cadbury’s brand). Peter Jones said this would be a PR dream to get into a legal issue with Cadbury’s.

McDonalds is said to be bringing out Spicy chicken nuggets during January 2020; however nothing is on the McDonalds website about it, but all over the news. This is a classic PR stunt!

The classic PR stunt that went horribly wrong in 2019 has to be Prince Andrew going on TV to account for his dealings with Jeffry Epstein.

Prince Harry’s Trial In 2023

A PR stunt in 2023 was a company called DASH, a lime flavoured sparkling water.

Prince Harry was dealing with the phone hacking scandal in court and a PR company came up with a PR stunt to piggy back on this event.

They hired a PR company to go outside of the trial in London and  produce placards saying ‘Prince Harry does not want the limelight, but we do’ and handed out free cans of lime flavoured water to people all around.

Of course the media were attending the event and hey presto, instant media coverage.  Simple but effective.

PR agencies are always looking for newsworthy stories and often dream up PR stunts as a way of getting media coverage for their customers.  This could result in the good, the bad or the ugly of media coverage.

Choosing The Right PR Agency

If you are planning a PR stunt, choosing the right PR agency is important.

Choosing an agency that understands your brand and your market should give them the best chance of making your PR stunt a success.

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