By Sadie Chapple, Client Coordinator, Enterprise Canada

PR stunts are as old the Gladiators who battled in the coliseums and as new as a Hollywood socialite “accidentally” releasing a sex tape. They are theatre; and, when used properly, they transcend the moment and become an effective tool to deliver your public relations message.

There are no limits when it comes to stunts.

Simple events like a ground breaking for a new local business can help to garner neighbourhood support, get people excited and talking and also give the business a chance to frame their key messages appropriately.

More extreme stunts work to drive home messages for global brands. For example, Felix Baumgartner skydiving from space for Red Bull Stratos helps in establishing the message that Red Bull “Gives You Wings” and supports the brands message of transcending human limits.

PR stunts or events serve a dual purpose:

• Primarily, they draw public attention to a brand, cause or event and generate word of mouth “buzz” – something which has been catapulted to a new level with the emergence of social media.

• Secondly,  they draw media attention to that same cause. Media and public response work hand-in-hand, whatever the public is interested in, the media is interested in, and vise versa.

A good PR stunt will capture  the attention of both the public and the media.

PR stunts should also be on-message. The point of the stunt is to bring the values and story of your brand or organization to life. Too often, people remember the stunts, but not the people behind it. If a stunt doesn’t connect back to the brand, even if it is a media hit, it hasn’t met its objective.

The “Are You Canadian?” beer fridge campaign promotes Molson’s brand and slogan effectively, and reinforces the message that this is a Canadian beer that brings people together.

However, a PR stunt like the Chipotle Twitter “hack” after the initial “shock factor” achieves nothing in the long term. True, the series of confusing and seemingly random tweets increased the company’s followers, but Chipolte did not earn new followers who were interested in interacting with them on an on-going basis, rather they attracted ones who were reacting to the spectacle.

When it comes to PR stunts, it is important to remember that people will always stop to see an accident on the side of the road, but few will care much about it once they pass.

There are four things a good PR practitioner should keep in mind when planning a PR stunt:

1. The connection: The stunt has to be driven by the promise or values of the brand or organization.

2. The visual: PR stunts have to grab the attention of the public. They have to be visual and compelling enough for the public to want to watch.

3. Newsworthiness: One of the biggest challenges is understanding that just because something may be new and exciting to a specific brand, doesn’t mean it is new and exciting to the media or the public. PR stunts that do not have a unique hook will likely fall flat.

4. Results: The payoff of a PR stunt is positive awareness about the message, whether measurable media impressions, social media mentions or immeasurable word of mouth. A successful stunt is an awareness accelerator, if nothing else.

Whether big or small, online or in the streets, the success of a PR stunt is measured by how effectively it generates media and public interest about the brand or cause being promoted.

Here are a few other examples of our favourite PR stunts:

• Insane stunts (ie: Nik Wallenda walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope)

• Record breaking stunts (ie: Ted Reader making the world’s largest hamburger)

• Absurd stunts (ie: Richard Branson dressing like a female flight attendant after losing a bet)

• Public outburst stunts (ie: flashmobs)

• Wacky contests (ie: Justin Bieber’s “Girlfriend” campaign)

• Reveal stunts (ie: the dragon head fossil left on the beach in Ireland to promote the release of Game of Thrones)

Stunts are effective communications tools when used well. Like anything else in communications, use them strategically and appropriately to tell a story and the results can be game-changing.


The original version of this article appears on Enterprise Canada 

Sadie Chapple, Client Coordinator, Enterprise Canada 

A proficient writer and media relations specialist, Sadie Chapple joined Enterprise Canada in the fall of 2011. Sadie’s forte is social media advocacy, although her work experience includes writing various media materials, print copy and research reports.

Sadie graduated from Brock University in 2010 with a BA in English Language and Literature, and is a recent graduate of Niagara College’s Public Relations Program, where she completed an intern placement at the St. Catharines branch of the Canadian Red Cross. 

About Sadie Chapple

Media Relations extraordinaire. Social media junkie, long time advocate of trashy TV.

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