Make your publicity plan shine, not backfire

Thomas CiesielkaBy Thomas Ciesielka

Sometimes we think we have a clever publicity idea, but it can end up being unsuccessful, or even land us in jail.

Alastair Lawson reports in the BBC News that a man shot an exploding target to announce his wife’s pregnancy. The blast sent billowing blue smoke into the air and created a boom that could be heard miles away. The man thought he was doing something clever, but his stunt scared his neighbors, it wasn’t even legal, and he might end up paying a fine and serving a jail sentence.

Hopefully, a business wouldn’t want to create such a scary promotional stunt, but everyone still needs to be careful. Here are 5 lessons to keep in mind when promoting your brand:

1 – Make sure it is legal. The man assumed the explosives were fine to use, since he bought them in a store. However, he should have made sure he had the required permit. Whether you need a permit or want to simply use a copyrighted photograph, make sure you find out what you need to do, or shouldn’t do, for your promotional campaign.

2 – Put it in context. A publicity stunt is more effective when you incorporate it into a promotional plan that could be more valuable for media coverage. It’s about quality, not just the sparkles. The man was proud of the blue smoke he was creating, but it caused problems. If you’re thinking of doing something spectacular, make it part of a long-term plan.

3 – Consider your audience. The man’s unique celebration upset his neighbors, even though he wanted to have fun. It is important to pay attention to your message and the details. For instance, WGN-TV picked the wrong star while reporting a positive story about a Jewish holiday. Instead of using a generic Star of David, they used an image of a star that was worn in a concentration camp. As a result, a simple news story ended up being a publicity blunder, and the mistake was broadcast throughout the world. The embarrassment could have been avoided if they had been conscientious.

4 – Focus. If the man had focused on how his message would impact his audience, he wouldn’t have been off target. It would have been more appropriate to simply invite friends and family over for some backyard fireworks to celebrate the good news. When promoting your own story, remember that media outlets range from hyper-local to national. Therefore, the right media, message, and scope of audience should be considered.

5 – Don’t go it alone. To prevent problems and misunderstandings, consult with a team of people who fall into three categories: the CEO, who will ultimately be the spokesperson whether things go well or badly; your in-house legal expert; and communications professionals.

As Thomas Paine said, “Character is much easier kept than recovered,” and with careful planning, your reputation can be preserved if you implement a wise publicity stunt that will get the right kind of attention.

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