Stand out from the herd and rethink what makes a good publicity stunt

By December 14, 2007General, Thought Leadership

Stand out

A good publicity stunt is as valuable as weeks, if not months, of PR work. A bold statement perhaps but one which has been proven on many occasions – here at Hotcow we’ll even go one step further; for charities a good publicity stunt can make the difference between a bad year and a great one.

It’s rare to find a charity with a healthy advertising or public relations budget. In fact, you’re far more likely to find one under-funded than with bursting coffers.

But raising public awareness with traditional methods like advertising campaigns doesn’t come cheap…when was the last time you saw any adverts on television for any but the very largest of the UK’s charities?

Editorial inches too are hard to come by – the idea of “charity” is one that is ingrained into our national conscious and, whilst few of us give anywhere near enough on a regular basis, there are no media miles in writing about it. Any stories that do make it into the press are likely to be about specifics and, as a result, are unsuitable as a platform from which to publicise your existence, efforts and aims.

How then do you, as a charity create a story that has enough immediate impact and media friendly content to catapult you into the glare of the spotlight and provide a dedicated platform from which to educate the public? And how do you do it without an astronomical outlay?

We believe we answered that earlier.

A well structured, targeted and executed publicity stunt can provide all the answers. Publicity stunts do not have to be expensive, they just need to be newsworthy. They do not need to be complicated, they just need to be well planned and well run. They do not need to be clever, they just need to be memorable.

Who can forget the giant image of Gail Porter and the text “Vote Porter” projected on to the Houses of Parliament one night in 1999? The image itself went on to become an iconic one of the 90s, Gail Porter’s profile exploded, and FHM – the magazine that produced the stunt – went on to dominate the mens magazine market for the next decade.

Even more than that, the stunt, staged at a time when deep concern was widespread that voter turnout was at an all time low because of a greater interest in popular culture than serious political issues, seemed to be a deeply ironic and socially aware statement and media commentary on it numbered in the hundreds of articles…all for the cost of one good idea from a media savvy operative with their finger on the pulse and a projector.

Imagine the difference this kind of occurrence could make to a charity.

The New South Wales government famously turned off the lights in Sydney in March 2007 to raise awareness of global warming in an hour long stunt called “Earth Hour”. Famous landmarks such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge were shrouded in darkness and articles about the event were published as far away as London. In this case massive organisation was required but the stunt itself actually saved money whilst highlighting an issue of global importance!

Staying in Sydney an airline company rather famously phoned a local DJ to make a bet that they could make a jumbo pass underneath the Harbour Bridge. The DJ accepted the bet and the event was talked about for weeks prior to its execution. When the day came crowds of spectators and massive media coverage arrived to find a barge complete with elephant and stewards passing serenely under the bridge. Whilst such a stunt was cheap to organise and perform the media coverage surrounding it was almost impossible to afford.

The list goes on – KFC ensured global coverage of their fish burger fast food offering by suggesting that its launch date just prior to Lent had been deliberate, that it was ideal for “American Catholics who want to observe the Lenten tradition while still leading their busy, modern lifestyles”, and that their chief executive had personally sent a letter to the Pope asking him to bless the sandwich…sacrilegious maybe, massively successful in getting attention certainly.

Houdini (strapped into a straitjacket and dangled from a tall building), The Beatles (with their EMI rooftop gig) and Marilyn Monroe (standing on a street grate expelling hot air) have all used the publicity stunt to create iconic images and events.

There’s no reason why you can’t too.

But before you set about organising your own events remember the four rules of great publicity stunts;

1. Weeks prior to execution day organise a whispering campaign to ensure large attendance. Identify the locations you wish to target, assign helpers to spread the word and start to spread the word. In some cases it may even be helpful to have props symbolic of the campaign to further intrigue the public.
2. Keep the press informed. Make sure every local (and national) news outlet is informed and invited – from radio to satellite to print to terrestrial. No outlet small enough to ignore. Invite everyone!
3. Make sure you have your own accredited and professional cameraman to record the event. Make it as easy as possible to the press to run the story – give them great pictures…after all, a picture paints a thousand words.
4. Finally, call Hotcow!

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