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Last updated June 1, 2016

The term ‘Publicity Stunt’ has been used for decades as people, businesses and non-profit organisations create activities to entice media attention. The really successful stunts have a direct link from the activity to the message that needs to be highlighted, but even unrelated stunts grab the spotlight long enough so someone can tell their story.

The definition of publicity is ‘to gain public notice’, so it makes sense that a deliberate attempt to get public attention is often referred to as a ‘publicity stunt’. Being recognised as a stunt is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, well managed publicity stunts are a great way to raise your organisations profile in the community.

If you’re planning a publicity stunt in your neighbourhood, make sure you:

Assess the Risks
Often publicity stunts have an element of risk involved, so it is important you assess those risks and do everything you can to minimise, manage or remove them before your stunt takes place. Even if your stunt is family-friendly and without any element of real danger, the sheer size and scale of the activity can present potential hazards for the public looking on.

Depending on the stunt you may need to consider issues such as crowd control and access for emergency vehicles. Even simple things such excess littering need to be considered and managed. You want to be in the spotlight for all the right reasons.

Get Relevant Permissions
Most activities on public land will require permission of some sort to go ahead. Your local council should be your first port of call, and then they will direct you to other agencies that may require specific permissions. The consent process can take a considerable amount of time to work through, so make sure you approach relevant authorities very early in your planning process.

Create a Relevant Link to your Cause
Making the world’s largest pizza makes perfect sense if you are a pizza parlour, but if you are a social service agency or a local environment centre you’ll need to highlight the relevance for any message to stick. Otherwise people will remember the pizza and forget your cause.

Perhaps the giant pizza could be an exercise of ‘family cooking on a budget’ or ‘creating meals from only locally grown produce’. Whatever the link, make sure you publicise it so your cause is remembered.

Involve a Celebrity
Publicity stunts gain even more attention when you have a celebrity or well-known figure involved. If your organisation doesn’t have a celebrity ambassador already, look for a local figure who is happy to help out with this specific stunt. They don’t necessarily need to be a spokesperson, but by simply lending their name it will help you generate more publicity.

Let the Media Know
The purpose of a publicity stunt is to gain publicity, so make sure the media knows ahead of time what is happening. Contacting your local newspaper is important, but it’s even more key to get in touch with a local radio station. Radio is a very interactive media, and they are able to report on your stunt as it happens. All radio stations have a promotions team, and most love the opportunity to get involved with something a little out of the box.

Make sure you are clear about the message you are trying to get across, and use every opportunity to relate the stunt to your cause. Talk to the media beforehand about the purpose of your stunt, so that the message doesn’t get lost in all the hype.

Use Social Media
There is no magic formula for what makes something go viral on Social Media, but one thing is for sure – if you haven’t posted it, you’ve got no chance at all. Make sure you record your publicity stunt and post a short video to your organisation’s Facebook page. Encourage your staff and volunteers to share the post and see where it takes you.

If your publicity stunt is easily repeatable, challenge your supporters to stage their own stunt and post it on their Facebook page also. Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?

Have a Plan
A well run publicity stunt will generate discussion about your cause, so it is important to make the most of that discussion in the days and weeks directly following your stunt. Make sure your website is up-to-date so people can access it for more information. Have a Social Media strategy so that the buzz can continue online and develop a follow-up brochure that you can send out if requested. Most importantly, make sure your office staff are well prepared for phone calls and requests for more information.

Set a Media Policy
Publicity stunts can sometimes take on a life of their own, and generate more attention than your organisation ever expected. Even if you can’t imagine it now, it is important that you are prepared for enquiries from national (and perhaps international) media. Set a policy as to who can respond to media inquiry, be clear about what the key messages are, and what can and cannot be said. Make sure your staff, board members and volunteers are all briefed on the policy ahead of time.

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