Ask any public relations pro for a way to create a memorable impression and the one-word answer will be “stunt.” The good ones create buzz. The great ones are talked about for years.
But so are the not-so-good ones. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor faced off in about a dozen promotions across the country for what was billed as “The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History.” Even with the snarling and staged animosity, about one-third of the seats in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas were occupied. Glitches in the pay-per-view broadcast led Showtime to refund money to some customers.
That’s not how it’s supposed to go. People were supposed to be excited and clamoring for a rematch. That’s why Rocky I, II and III were made. Did the 10-round bout generate the same excitement? No. Mayweather went back into retirement and McGregor mumbled that he wasn’t sure what he would do next.
Oscar Wilde said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Tell that to Chipotle when the topic is food safety and Wells Fargo when the subjects are customer trust and transparency. They had to deploy crisis communication plans.
Stunts fall into a different category. Good ones build brand, engage audiences and provide entertainment that people want to share through social media. Red Bull received a boost when it paid Felix Baumgartner to become the first person to break the sound barrier by falling 23 miles from Earth’s stratosphere. Taco Bell took a chance when it advertised on April Fool’s Day that it had bought the Liberty Bell and re-named it the Taco Liberty Bell. The announcement generated lots of complaints, but more laughs once the joke was explained.
Your business may not have the financial resources of those companies, or Richard Branson, who has promoted himself and mocked his competitors in stunts. A good act doesn’t require a lot of money. In 1999, older members of the Women’s Institute in Great Britain created a tasteful nude calendar. It sold 800,000 copies and a British comedy film followed.
When the Centers for Disease Control wanted to motivate people in 2011 to get ready for hurricane season, its communication staff wrote a blog post titled “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” It offered the same tips as previous years, but with a twist that caught fire on social media. The CDC distributed posters and sold Zombie Task Force T-shirts. The stunt’s creators were speakers at ComicCon. Initial expense: $87 for stock photos.
Your organization can create the next hit, too. Before you make the leap, answer these questions:
▪ Who is your audience? The stunt should attract the targeted group. Red Bull’s space drop appealed to its primary customers, millennials, who value experiences over products.
▪ How does the stunt relate to your brand? Taco Bell matched the prank to its logo and to its lighthearted advertising approach that once included a talking Chihuahua.
▪ What’s your budget? Treasure Coast Hospice invited dog lovers to a Pup-arazzi fashion show in which owners dressed up their pets and walked them down a runway to benefit the hospice’s Pet Peace of Mind program. Sponsorships and a modest $25 registration fee covered costs.
▪ Could things go wrong? On July 12, 1979, the Chicago White Sox, which popularized stunts in baseball, held Disco Demolition Night. Spectators wreaked havoc on the field and the White Sox forfeited the game scheduled to follow.
Don Silver is COO of BoardroomPR, a public relations and marketing agency based in Fort Lauderdale that serves markets statewide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
▪ Spreading the Word is an occasional column that features professionals sharing thoughts and advice on branding and social media. To be considered, submit topics to rclarke@MiamiHerald.com.