If you happened to catch the mid-June episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ll probably get the reference this post’s title makes. If not, read on to find out – and to learn what to do, and not do – when developing media tactics for your brand.
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Press, Right?
Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” It’s a pithy epigram, but not a great marketing strategy. We all know there are plenty of bad ways to get attention.
What Makes a Good Stunt?
PR stunts, though, done right, can capture audience attention in all the right ways.
On October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a helium balloon 24 miles above Earth, becoming the first person to break the sound barrier in his parachute jump. You may remember it as the Red Bull Stratos Jump. In addition to breaking three world records, it’s also widely recognized as the biggest PR stunt ever.
The cliché is, “Advertising you pay for; PR you pray for.” In traditional advertising, a brand purchases a position for its messaging to be communicated. In standard public relations, a brand works to convince media of the worth of its messages, in hopes that they will choose to convey them to their audiences.
In marketing communications, public relations can get less respect – and funding – than other parts of the marketing mix. This can be unfair, because quality media coverage of a brand can be priceless. After all, we pay attention to our chosen media outlets primarily for the information they publish.
But the stunt may be what aids the skepticism of PR as a discipline. Elaborate attempts for media attention can fall flat. For instance, every day of the year holds several arcane, PR-created holidays: I write this on National Personal Chef Day – declared, unsurprisingly, in a campaign by the United States Personal Chef Association.
The boundary between public relations and marketing can blur, depending on the brand, company, and agency involved. Pop-up shops, social media campaigns – many tactics are sometimes owned by PR, other times by marketing.
A few key rules never change, regardless of who is directing the effort.
Stay current. This gets harder every day, as the news cycle speeds ever quicker. I’m pushing it with the headline of this post: it’s a quote that’s already a month old. Nothing marks a brand out as being corporate like a pop-culture reference that’s past its expiration date, and these days, a meme lasts about four days.
Be on brand. Red Bull’s Stratos Jump was heavily and continually branded, and fit its young, fearless, energetic, extreme image. It’s vital to have that combination. Last month’s joke rebranding of IHOP restaurants to promote burgers met mixed results, because it wasn’t what consumers associated with them. And you probably remember that Oprah gave away hundreds of cars, but did you remember that they were Pontiacs?
Know your media. The nuances and conventions of the location – online or off – are vital. The film “Rampart” became a shorthand for users of Reddit when actor Woody Harrelson tried to interact with users while promoting his film. Unfortunately, he didn’t handle his Q&A in the informal, free-wheeling style users expect from that format, and it rapidly went south.
Be safe. The lawyers approve? Plan B (and Plan C) is ready to go? Everything has been stress-tested and triple-checked? Then you can go forward. When Uber Eats tried to deliver free Krispy Kreme doughnuts in Central London, the orders crashed their app, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of tens of thousands of consumers.
Get lucky. Risk is inherent to a stunt. If your event happens an hour after a breaking news event … you’re out of luck. What would Red Bull have done if the jump went wrong? Certainly, they had contingency plans – but fortunately, Baumgartner landed safely.
Do the right thing. In May, Ambien hopped into the news story of Roseanne Barr’s public self-destruction with a neatly worded tweet that delicately alluded to the controversy, but did so by stating its values positively:
The kids call that shade. And while it wasn’t premeditated PR – more like crisis media relations – it was pitch-perfect.
It’s hard to capture attention for your brand with a newsworthy event, but these six tips will help you get there.