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Outrageous publicity stunts!

newshank.jpgI started reading a fantastic book last night — it’s a sort of 21st-century PR manual born of the ‘guerilla marketing’ school of public relations. It’s called “Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work — and Why Your Company Needs Them”, and was written by Peter Shankman, who owns a rather unusual agency in New York known as The Geek Factory.

I picked up the book for two reasons: One, I have a newly-published guidebook to promote. And Two, I’m about to start a media company called Young Pioneers. YP Media, as the company is also known, will largely concern itself with covering entrepreneurs — but not just any entrepreneur. We’re interested specifically in the odd, the unusual, the extreme, the ballsy, the brave, the bizarre … you get the idea. Anyway, my thinking was that if I’m going to start a company that documents wildly unique business people, I ought to do my very best to become a wildly unique business person as well. And so I went searching through the business books at my local Borders in search of something wildly unique, and I came home with Peter’s book.

By the way, I just now stumbled upon Peter’s blog, which I’m guessing might be worth your time, assuming you also have something to promote — even if it’s just yourself. To read it, point your browser here: www.prdifferently.com.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of PR stunts because to me they’re very much a child of the infamous media pranksters of the 1960s and 70s. (To read about a few recent media pranks, click here.) Richard Branson in particular seems to use PR stunts to his advantage quiet often, and has earned millions of dollars in free publicity for his various Virgin companies in the process. Read the following excerpt from a Booz Allen Hamilton case study by Glenn Rifkin; it outlines just a few of the stunts that resulted in newspaper articles and prime-time television coverage for Branson and the Virgin Group:

His trademark is outlandish publicity stunts. He will do almost anything to promote the Virgin brand: driving a tank down Fifth Avenue in New York to introduce Virgin Cola to the United States, risking his life in high-profile hot-air balloon adventures or portraying a drowning victim on television’s “Baywatch.”

Indeed, so crucial is the continued high profile of Virgin that Mr. Branson says his highest paid and most important employee is Will Whitehorn, his public relations and communications director. “I suspect in most companies, the public relations person is down at No. 20 in the pecking order,” Mr. Branson says. “But, here, he is fighting incredibly important battles. If a negative story starts running away with itself in the press and is not dealt with fast, it can badly damage the brand. And so we put enormous weight on our public relations people.”

Mr. Branson reportedly sets aside at least 25 percent of his time for public relations activities, and Mr. Whitehorn has a staff member whose sole responsibility is devising the headline-catching publicity stunts for which Mr. Branson has become known. “If your staff works enormously hard to create something they are proud of, it’s foolish if you don’t let the world know about it,” Mr. Branson states. “Using yourself to get out and talk about it is a lot cheaper and more effective than a lot of advertising. In fact, if you do it correctly, it can beat advertising hands down and save tens of millions of dollars.”

Pretty interesting stuff. Personally, I’d love to hear more about outrageous entrepreneurs and CEOs, as well as interesting guerilla PR tactics worth trying. Anyone care to share an idea or two?

Finally, here’s a great photo of The Geek Factory’s Peter Shankman (photo deleted; so sorry), taken from an equally great site called 365 Portraits, in which a New York City-based photographer by the name of Bill Wadman takes a new photograph of an interesting person for 365 days in a row. Now that’s what I call a fantastic, wonderfully creative idea for a project! Bill certainly sounds like a Young Pioneer to me …

 

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 13, 2007 at 11:43 AM

    Thanks for that, Peter. I’ll be writing about Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons’ new book, Punk Marketing, in the first re-launched issue of Young Pioneers. I think it’d make good sense to include a mention of your book as well … so assuming you’re interested, I will be in touch.

    Take good care till then! –Dan

  2. July 10, 2007 at 9:49 PM

    Hey there, Dan.

    Thanks for the kind words! Always nice to know people are actually getting something out of my book. Makes me quite happy.

    Feel free to email me anytime with questions, happy to chat.

    All the best, and good luck with your new travel book!

    Best,

    -Peter Shankman
    PR. Differently.

  3. July 3, 2007 at 5:58 PM

    It does sound like a great book. I’ve added it to my wish list. Branson is the king of free PR and I’ve always looked up to him regarding that.

    Thanks for sharing Branson excerpt as my webcrawler found it based on that and made me interested in the book.

    Chris
    http://www.TheProsperityGuy.com

  4. July 2, 2007 at 10:24 PM

    You bet Chris, I’ll put together a brief review once I’ve finished the book. And at the rate I’m cranking through it, that shouldn’t take long.

    But I also plan to put some of Peter’s ideas to the test, which is to say I plan on staging a PR stunt or two myself. I’ll be sure to write about the experience(s) here, and I’ll also let readers know what sort of press (if any) comes my way as a result. Stay tuned!

  5. Chris Hoskin
    July 2, 2007 at 4:31 PM

    Sounds like a great book.

    Will you let us know what you thought when you’re done?

    I am interested in the concept of PR ‘Stunts’ vs great PR initiatives.

    The late Princess Diana fired up my interest in PR in when she visited a Leprosy mission in November 1989. She visited a leprosy hospital in Sitanala, Indonesia, against the advice of officials and the UK press.

    Television broadcasts showed her sitting on the beds of leprosy patients, shaking their hands and touching their bandaged wounds while dignitaries looked on from behind the safety of a window.

    I think she did more for Leprosy victims in one single hour than most people would have done in a lifetime.

    For me it highlighted the power of PR and the media – and the fact that great PR campaigns aren’t typically contrived or calculated.

    I’d be keen to see how PR ‘Stunts’ (of which some have had a huge impact) stack up against the examples of less ‘calculated’ campaigns.

    Chris @ rawstylus.wordpress.com

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