Companies rarely use unconventional PR as their core channel, but when done well, it can yield amazing results.
There are two types of unconventional PR:
- Publicity stunts
- Customer appreciation
Unconventional PR is mainly used to build a strong, positive brand image.
Publicity stunts are events or actions that are designed to get people talking.
There are many success cases:
- Half.com temporarily renamed a small town in the U.S. to their company name and earned publicity for creating jobs there.
- WePay pulled a stunt to criticize PayPal for freezing user accounts. It placed a huge block of ice at the entrance of PayPal’s developer conference, converting disgruntled PayPal customers into fans of the daring startup.
- DuckDuckGo bought a billboard behind Google’s headquarters and used it to highlight Google’s privacy issues.
- BlendTec created a popular YouTube series called “Will it Blend?”
- Dollar Shave Club turned heads with a launch video called, “Our Blades are F***ing Great.” The stunt even boosted their SEO rankings for the highly-competitive keyword “shave.”
Customer appreciation refers to small gestures that make customers happy and generate good PR.
Some success cases:
- Hipmunk sent custom-made luggage tags and a personal note to the first several hundred people who mentioned the brand on Twitter. Since the luggage tags were well-designed, many people used them when traveling and shared the brand on social media.
- In its earlier days, reddit sent free t-shirts and personal emails to contributors.
- Grasshopper.com has sent candy, baked goods, Starbucks gift cards, and personal notes to say thank you to customers.
Holding contests is another way to show appreciation to customers:
- Shopify.com held a competition called Build a Business with a cash prize for the winners.
- Dropbox created an online scavenger hunt called Dropquest, also with prizes.
- Hipmunk is known for holding interesting contests, like their Mother’s Day Giveaway, in which users and their moms won gifts from the startup.
Besides the more gimmicky options, really good customer support is also a great way to show customer appreciation. Since good customer support is rare, this often impresses customers and increases your brand image.
Unconventional PR can be cheap, yet yield a very high return.
When Grasshopper.com changed to their current name, they sent an inspiring video to 5,000 entrepreneurs along with a chocolate-covered grasshopper! This generated lots of buzz and made them a well-known name.
Grasshopper.com also made a parody video of a popular song and mentioned top tech publications in the lyrics. They forwarded it to the publications, who were compelled to share the song to show that they were “cool.”
Chargify hired a stuntman to run around the SXSW conference. It cost them a fraction of the entry fee for a regular booth, but easily captured the attention of attendees.
Do something big, cheap, fun, and original.
Do good things for your customers.
Know that some stunts may fail, but that’s okay.