How to ensure you PR stunt doesn’t fail


Elon Musk, Kanye West

Publicity stunts have always been a great way to get immediate attention and tongues wagging about a new product or service through media coverage.

PT. Barnum was a master at the art and built a reputation as the greatest showman on earth who employed sensational forms of presentation and publicity to popularise his museum, the musical concert, and Barnum & Bailey three-ring circus.

More contemporary examples include Richard Branson and the launch of his numerous Virgin brands, and most recently Elon Musk with Tesla and Space X, but not all PR stunts hit the mark and can even be deemed tone deaf.

A great example is businessman Dick Smith’s attempt at humour around an Australia Day ad back in 2013. Dick has championed local made products over foreign owned brands for many years, and his intentions for this cause are admirable, however the overuse of his first name to appear cheeky (and naughty) and an attempt to explain why asylum seekers want to settle here fell nothing short of flat.

Another is Kanye West’s White Lives Matter T-shirt worn at Paris Fashion Week. The stunt not only called into question his motives but caused immeasurable damage to his brand.

So how do you make sure your great idea to gain attention is perfectly executed without becoming known for all the wrong reasons, and ensure you have the appropriate risk management in place?

Firstly you should carefully consider your brand and the message you’re trying to get across. If the stunt is off brand or has the opportunity to take on an unintended life of its own like the one Advantage SA did, then it also has the potential to damage your reputation which can take decades to build. No one likes dead goldfish delivered to their office.

Second, understand the target audience. The use of humour might seem like a good idea for some customers, but just like the Dick Smith ad, if its tone deaf then it’s more likely to upset and alienate people than win new clients.

Third, being on top of how you execute it can be the difference between success and failure. If things can go wrong, they will especially when social media is involved. Just ask Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Taco Bell, and KFC who were all involved in dreadful PR stunts.

Most importantly get some external advice, usually a good PR company that can help with communications planning, provide a different perspective, understanding things like production timelines, and writing and issuing press releases, all of which can have a huge effect on their outcomes.