A question that comes up frequently in our interactions with colleagues, clients, and friends is, “Do publicity stunts work?” Almost every day there’s a story on the news site of your choice about a stunt that’s gone badly, from faked Twitter account hacks (and imitation drunk Tweeting) to having actors storm a movie premiere dressed as gunmen. In light of this, “Do publicity stunts work?” is a legitimate question.

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Publicity stunts can and do work, but only under certain conditions. They do have to be unique and garner attention, but they also need to be brand and value consistent. This is where most stunts fall down. Stunts are typically engineered for the shock value without enough thought given to how the stunt fits into the brand narrative.

An excellent and positive example of this was JetBlue’s Fly it Forward campaign over the holidays. The company searched Craigslist rideshare listings for people looking to get a ride home.

The campaign got people talking and it received a lot of attention. It was also thoroughly aligned with their values (“Safety, Caring, Integrity, Fun and Passion“) and promoted their brand.

To better help decide whether a PR stunt you’re considering is worth doing, use this short checklist of five characteristics of a successful publicity stunt:

1. Uniquely Yours. While there are very few new things under the sun, what you do should at least have a unique angle.

2. Value Aligned. Review your list of core corporate values. The PR stunt you’re considering needs to be in alignment with your values and should not violate any of them. You’re setting out to get people talking about your brand in a big way, so be careful that it demonstrates what you want people to feel about your brand.

3. Shareably Short. Think about what you want people to say. If people can’t explain what your stunt was about, or worse, if you can’t explain it in 140 characters or less, then keep sharpening it until it’s explainable as a Tweet.

4. Positively Perceived. A successful stunt is one that generates positive discussion and ideally goodwill. Ask the challenging question, “How could this stunt be misconstrued?” when you’re in the planning stages. Could someone reasonably misconstrue the stunt as racist or bigoted, threatening, or defying common sense?

5. Brand Aligned. A successful stunt works with your brand and what you stand for. Consider the Will It Blend series of videos put out by blender manufacturer BlendTec. It’s humorous, surprising, and completely in alignment with what they do. While a stunt does not need to be a direct tie-in to what your business does, it does need to be relevant enough for your audience to make the connection between the stunt and your brand.

If you follow these 5 simple guidelines when you’re in the planning stages of a publicity stunt, you’ll end up with a much better result than going for pure shock value, or you may discover that the stunt you had in mind simply isn’t a good fit. Better to learn that in planning than in a tidal wave of negative reactions after the stunt goes live.

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