chapter 16

Pull a PR Stunt

As an online retailer you have two choices to go about your day-to-day operation:

  1. You can sell stuff.
  2. You can build a fun and unforgettable brand with cult followers - and sell a lot more merchandise. 

Which would you rather do?

PR stunts are the ancient version of the viral video. They are loads of fun and help bring tons of attention to your brand if executed well. And best of all, they drive tons of links from authority news sources – which is great for SEO.

Now you may not have the nerve to do a PR stunt, but if you think you do, then read on.

The Buttons of Buzz

In his book Buzz Marketing, author Mark Hughes lists the six buttons of buzz as:

  • The Taboo
  • Unusual
  • Outrageous
  • Hilarious
  • Remarkable
  • Secrets

When pushed, these buttons get people talking about your brand. You don’t have to push all the buttons at once for a PR stunt to work. You just have to nail one of them.

There is no better way to explain these buttons than to go over some examples:

Change the Name of a City was able to change the name of Halfway, Oregon to for one year. This publicity stunt got the startup business publicity from the New York Times and even the attention of Katie Couric. Changing the name of a city to your brand name would be an example of a remarkable stunt. Remarkable in the sense that people will remark about it to their peers, and it will be remarkably expensive.

Vomit and Snot Flavored Jelly Beans

A classic PR stunt done by Jelly Belly was to create outrageous flavored jelly beans during a certain time of the year. Not only did people actually eat them but even more people told everyone around them about these weird jelly bean flavors.

Get Naked

Italian entrepreneur, Enrico Frare put a full page ad in a Milan newspaper where he posed nearly nude. His message was that every day in Italy an entrepreneur almost loses his shirt. This was his economic commentary pertaining to the difficulty of businesses getting credit from Italian banks during current times. Posing nude is obviously taboo, and when combined with an underlying message, it will always attract attention and more importantly, press coverage.

Invitation Only

Some publicity stunts can run a couple of years and still be highly effective. Facebook and Gmail started off by invite only. In each case, by creating scarcity and a great product – they were able to make outsiders want in. Making secret clubs can be a genius way to create unrivaled amounts of demand. Nike also does this with their SB (Skateboarding) shoes by creating very limited releases that sell for hundreds of dollars a pair.

Why Have Boring Ice Cubes?

And when it comes to hilarious PR stunts, no brand does it better than Virgin. For years the team at Virgin has been pulling stunts like putting Richard Branson looking ice cubes in airline beverages. It’s worth spending an evening reading over everything Virgin has come up with – it’s a course in itself! 

Always Perform a Sanity Check First

If you think you have the world’s greatest publicity stunt idea, be sure to run it by some of your trusted friends first. Some publicity stunts can go terribly wrong and end your business instead of boosting it.

Back in 1896, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway wanted to attract some attention by having two steam trains go head on with each other on the same track. From a publicity point of view it worked like magic – more than 40,000 people showed up to watch the collision. Unfortunately, when the trains collided the boilers exploded sending debris at the crowd - killing three people. 

But Aren’t PR Stunts Pricey?

Sure, the examples above are from relatively large brands with big marketing budgets. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with some remarkable publicity on a low budget. Remember the good old New York City subway flash mob (Frozen Grand Central)? That just took a couple hundred willing participants and a video camera.

Finally - Keep Going

If you find that your brand has the knack for publicity stunts, well then keep doing them. You’ll find that when you keep the momentum of good PR up, the rewards are just too good to pass up. Not only will you gardner plenty of attention and public curiosity, but hopefully you'll get people who are interested in purchasing your products to pay attention.

Next chapter

17. Sell a Unique and Newsworthy Product

2 min

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