Why You Should Expect the Unexpected With PR Stunts

PR Stunts. Everyone wants to do them and hopes they trigger massive media attention. From the World's Largest Roll of Toilet Paper to tying small promotional banners to flies and setting them loose in a crowd, PR stunts are becoming a more and more desired avenue for small business. Why? Because a little creativity doesn't cost much.

While your creativity can pay off dividends with media exposure, some are good, some are bad and some -- well, they just have an unexpected outcome. You have to be prepared for it all.

Take last week's Blackhawks Stanley Cup Game One Ticket Giveaway by Chicago-based BaconSports.com. The site's intention was to create an ad on Craigslist "from" the most obnoxious character ever. Someone the average person would deem ridiculous, clearly not real and not something anyone would find believable. The company would collect the responses and later distribute as a pitch to local media with the Top 10 Responses of What Blackhawks Fans Would do for Tickets.

The only problem is that Blackhawks fans believed it to be true and proved they would do anything to get their hands on some tickets. Word spread and it went viral.

Within 48 hours of hitting DeadSpin.com it hit USA Today, Chicago Magazine, Complex Sports and others. They didn't even know until WLS-AM called wanting to talk to them.

Another issue: because they did not expect it to go viral, they didn't put their name on it. What could have been great exposure for their company was a missed opportunity.

I spoke to Rob Cressy at BaconSports.com who had some great "lessons learned" to share with other small businesses [full disclosure: Rob Cressy is a former student of mine from Second City, though the author of this piece and Cressy found each other completely independent of my involvement in any capacity. -ed.]:

You can't make something go viral. We had no intention of it getting picked up. We put no effort into making it to viral. It was just a crazy idea we came up over a ping-pong game that happened to generate a lot of attention.

Always expect the unexpected. We created this idea with zero expectation that anything would happen and missed a PR opportunity. We've created other content, spent less time on this and it went further than any other idea we've had. Be prepared if something does happen.

Own it. Since our name wasn't attached, we are still going back to our original idea to get media interested in sharing those Top 10 Finalist videos and show exactly what people would do for tickets (To date: Yardbarker.com picked it up) to generate some PR.

Put your money where your mouth is. We had no tickets. We had no intention of giving them away, but we realized that the integrity of our company and website were at stake. We didn't want people putting out negative messages, so we ponied up, bought the tickets and selected a very deserving winner.

Put a positive spin on a light-hearted situation. It was completely worth it to give away the tickets. Our mission is to help people achieve their dreams through the love of sports, and we did that. We chose the right winner and were thrilled to give her an awesome experience, which she shared on social media, and we got to share with her.

Cressy said the experience has inspired them to do similar things in the future, but they will definitely take the outcome of this stunt into consideration as they continue to create ideas and content for their site. It's also provided insight into how they market to and engage with fans and followers in the future.

Jennifer Fortney is president of Cascade Communications, a boutique virtual PR and marketing communications company in Chicago focusing on small business and startups. In her 15+ year career she has worked with some of the top Fortune 500 companies and a wide variety of small businesses and startups across the country. A journalism major with music minor from the University of Kansas, she is also the PR Instructor at SCORE Chicago and founder of @MyStorySource live media pitch feed on Twitter and Facebook. @SmallBizPRXpert

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