A PR stunt, or publicity stunt, is a coordinated public relations event intended to raise positive awareness about a brand, product, cause or event. While this overarching goal is similar to that of a TV commercial or billboard, PR stunts are set apart in how they gain attention. Unlike traditional advertising and marketing tactics, these events typically take a more unique and memorable approach to engage with their target audience. With bold, eye-catching (and sometimes “over the top”) stunts, brands can differentiate themselves and leave a lasting impression that, ideally, earns mass media coverage.
For a PR stunt, getting people talking is the biggest win, and one of the most proven ways to do so is getting an audience involved. An interactive campaign that allows people to “participate in the fun” gives them reason to share the experience with others, translating into sales, donations and support for your brand.
Contrary to popular belief, not all PR stunts have to be elaborate and grandiose—nor do they need a big budget. While a 30-second TV commercial can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, PR stunts can offer an unmatched return on investment for far less money. In fact, the greatest resource in developing a successful event isn’t money at all, it’s creative thinking. On the flip side, the biggest expense behind a PR stunt is the inherent risk of trying something new.
How can your business use a PR stunt to gain positive media exposure? Tips and questions to ask your team when planning an event.
- Identify your media goals. We know that a PR stunt aims to be “outside-the-box” enough that you are memorable, but what do you want to be remembered for? Are you trying to build general brand awareness, or promote a specific product or service? Do you want to fundraise, or generate more website traffic? No matter what PR tactic you use, if you don’t know what you’re hoping to achieve in the first place, you won’t be able to measure the success of your efforts.
- Get to know your audience. Once you’ve determined who your target clients, stakeholders and customers are, do your research! What do they care about? What triggers their attention, or what has in the past?
- Consider the risks. A PR stunt can significantly improve your brand’s reputation, but if you aren’t careful, it can also cause serious damage to your image. Throughout the planning process, ask for feedback from people outside of your organization. People can (and are known to) interpret PR stunts in a variety of unexpected ways, so the more perspective you have on possible response to your event, the less likely it will be to backfire.
- Evaluate success. As outlined in tip #1, identifying your PR goals first is necessary for evaluating performance later. While going “viral” across TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have become widely regarded as the gold standard for public relations success, identifying specific metrics, such as increased Google searches, or mentions and shares on social media, will help you determine whether your PR stunt achieved what it set out to do.
- Prepare to be flexible. Even with the most seasoned public relations professionals at the helm, PR stunts don’t always go according to plan. Just as it is important to evaluate the possible risks and negative consequences, it is equally necessary to have a mitigation plan in place so that, if things go awry, your brand can efficiently and professionally adapt.