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How the PR stunt has evolved to become truly disruptive

By 10th September 2018 No Comments

10th September 2018

How the PR stunt has evolved to become truly disruptive

Jane Woods Director of Operations and Group Account Director at Edson Evers


Starting out on my PR career back in the 90s, I was brought up on the benefits of the good old-fashioned PR stunt.  Giant curries, celebrity weigh-ins, steak-eating competitions… and it seemed, anything that involved football!


An article in The Drum says a great publicity stunt should, ‘stop people in their tracks, deliver a thunderclap of social media chatter and a ton of media coverage.’

It goes on to say that: ‘Publicity stunts have a long history as a disruptive tactic for challenger brands – those that can’t afford to spend their way into the public consciousness and need to generate word of mouth quickly.’

That said, I was never a particular fan. Aside from the fact that they took an inordinate amount of time to organise, a lot of standing around (usually in the rain) and some anxious moments waiting to see if the local press did – or didn’t – turn up, I always questioned the brand value they delivered.  It’s fair to say they gave companies their moment of fame, linking their brand to a cause or an event that might – if you were lucky – get people talking, smiling, or maybe even crying for a moment or two.

Yet, challenger brands with huge budgets have pulled off some incredible stunts over the years. Who remembers the giant Michael Jackson statue floating down the Thames, Greenpeace scaling Christ the Redeemer in Rio or when Pepsi turned blue? Or when Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without the help of a machine, a stunt conceived, produced and broadcast by Red Bull?

But for your average brand, back in the day before anyone had invented social media, word of mouth really did mean talking to your mate down the pub.  Your basic brand publicity stunt was, at best, a moment in time. The ability for it to have any longevity was fairly limited.

Today, brands, even those with small budgets, are spoilt for choice.  With the explosion of social media, brands really do have the opportunity to become disruptive. Their moment in time can be shared, commented on, engaged with and potentially go viral.

Best of all, it can last the duration. Now, a PR stunt can take its place alongside a much broader content marketing campaign. Using the power of social influencers, brands can not only grab attention but keep that attention going and have meaningful conversations with their audiences to boot.

We’ve certainly become a lot more sophisticated in our taste for the PR stunt. But who knows? Maybe a giant curry cook-off is actually our next Instagram sensation and we don’t yet realise we need it!

You can take a look at the Drum’s top 25 greatest PR stunts of our time here.

If you’re able to react fast enough, then newsjacking with a PR stunt can be incredibly effective. This blog from Abbi gives a quick 101 lesson on everything you need to know.

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