James Herring: How to perfect the PR stunt

Ahead of his talk on Zen and the art of the publicity stunt at Cannes Lions next week, James Herring, owner at Taylor Herring, talks about the value of stunts, how a good stunt can benefit a wider PR campaign and how to make something memorable.

James Herring 1

James Herring

Which publicity-generating event, that you’ve not been involved in, has grabbed your attention and why?

KFC Hong Kong created two edible nail polishes – bringing the classic tagline, “Finger Lickin’ Good,” to life. The polish flavors (featuring a secret mix of 11 secret herbs and spices) are based on the brand’s two favourite recipes, Original and Hot & Spicy.

It’s not the first time the chain has grabbed attention by doing the unexpected and generating an enormous amount of publicity at a very modest cost.

In your view, what is a publicity stunt, when is it a good thing to do and how does it sit within a wider PR strategy?

Done well – a publicity stunt is an audacious piece of attention-seeking, earned media that stops people in their tracks, delivers a thunderclap of social media chatter and a ton of media coverage.

In our new ad-blockable, ad-skippable world – it’s a great way to cut through the clutter and an especially useful tactic for challenger brands – those that can’t afford to spend their way into the public consciousness with TV spots, homepage takeovers and cover wraps, and need to get things going quickly.

What are the big dos and don’ts when attempting a stunt?

Dos: Stunts need to be entertaining and engaging, but they must also be rooted in a coherent narrative that integrates with the rest of the marketing message.

Don’ts: Most stunts necessitate a strong picture and video element – and if that’s the case you need to resist the temptation to kill them with corporate branding. Credit the audience and media with some intelligence and respect. Great campaigns prompt people to learn more – they will want to know ‘who did this, and why?’

What makes a stunt memorable?

People love audacity, originality, bravery and of course they love to be entertained. The best stunt marketing is both audacious and bold – the greater the risk the greater the return.

Is a stunt only suitable for consumer-facing brands?

Used appropriately it’s a tactic that can be deployed by anyone – from governments and public bodies, to charities, causes and B2B.

Has social brought about a new age or new opportunity for experience-led campaigns?

Undoubtedly. The one question you will hear being asked countless times a day in our boardroom is ‘Will people share this?’ – the answer to that question has to be a solid ‘yes’ to justify client investment, and there are few better agency buzzes than having a trending story on Twitter.

What are you most looking forward to at Cannes this year from a PR perspective?

There are some great talks in the line-up, including the likes of Sir John Hegarty, Harvey Weinstein, Anna Wintour, Oliver Stone and Simon Pegg.

My festival highlight is taking time out to browse the thousands of competition entries and getting inspired with some fresh thinking for the year ahead.

How is The Poke? Having set up the site in 2002, what’s the most valuable lesson it has taught you?

It’s doing well thanks!

Just passed the two million fans on social media mark, working on a pilot for the BBC and currently raising investment for the next stage.

The project really helped hone our skills in thinking more like a publisher when devising campaigns. We craft the copy and hone the angles so writers can find lots of routes into a story that would work for their audience. The huge opportunity is in video content that can deliver the deeper client messaging (that a journalist is NEVER going to write exactly as you would like them to). Pretty much all our work includes a click-worthy video and strong picture assets.

  • James Herring and Peter Mountstevens from Taylor Herring present ‘Zen And the Art Of The Publicity Stunt’ at 1pm, Saturday 18th June, Debussy Theatre, Palais De Festival, Cannes Lions
Related Posts
60 Seconds with The Academy co-founder Mitch Kaye
60 Seconds with The Academy co-founder Mitch Kaye
Mitch Kaye, co-founder of The Academy, reveals why he and Dan Glover started their second agency, how the pair work together and his love of AFC Bournemouth. What made you [...]
60 Seconds with Curzon PR
60 Seconds with Curzon PR’s Farzana Baduel
Farzana Baduel, founder and CEO of Curzon PR, talks about being an ambassador for the Oxford Foundry’s L.E.V8 Women programme, how women can become PR leaders and [...]
60 Seconds with Platform Communications
60 Seconds with Platform Communications’ Gay Bell
Gay Bell, founder and CEO of Platform Communications, talks about why she founded the agency, changes in the tech sector and how she commits to ensure staff are happy and [...]
60 Seconds with Little Red Rooster
60 Seconds with Little Red Rooster’s Victoria Ruffy
Victoria Ruffy, founder of Little Red Rooster, reveals why she set up the agency, how she attracts prestigious clients and how she replaced her Triumph Spitfire Mark IV. What [...]