Secrets Of Successful PR Stunts (St. Paddy’s Day Edition)

What makes a successful brand PR stunt? St. Patrick’s Day, with its colorful parades and festivities, has us thinking about Chicago, a standout on that day for a quirky tradition that has endured through six decades: dying its river green. It’s a PR stunt that still makes headlines every year for its “wow” factor, not to mention the tide of social sharing, complete with Chicago-centric hashtags.

The green river wasn’t designed as a PR campaign for Chicago, but the stunt generates a great deal of buzz for the Second City, even attracting tourists who plan trips for the occasion. Its longevity makes it an event PR pros can examine for clues about how to pull off a successful PR stunt (should you be in that camp!). Here are six helpful clues.

It’s authentic. In today’s media landscape, where we can’t really tell whether that viral video was “organic” or engineered, it’s getting harder to find authenticity. The Chicago River, the story goes, was originally stained green in the 1960s, when the city was trying to find out who was dumping waste into the river. A special dye was poured into the sewage system, causing the river to change color wherever waste was being dumped. From this rather unappealing practice came the idea to turn the river green for St. Patrick’s Day. The city’s parade organizers ran with the idea, and it’s been a signature feature of Chicago’s annual festivities ever since.

In other words, it “just happened,” then became a tradition. Often the most successful brand campaigns are unplanned. And while such “accidents” are impossible to duplicate, authenticity is still something to strive for. Even under the city’s current “something epic” campaign, the St. Paddy’s day stunt, with its celebratory but loud visual clamor, works well in concert with Chicago’s brand character.

It’s visually stunning. There’s no way a sparkling, emerald green river through downtown Chicago is not going to turn heads. One of the first rules of a good PR stunt is its visual impact; whatever the plan, it has to be eye catching, and it has to photograph well.

It brings people together. For a PR event, this is key. It’s not nicknamed the Windy City for nothing, and March 17 in Chicago is anything but balmy. Yet each year, thousands brave the chill to be part of the green river festivities. Finding a cause that motivates a diverse group of people to rally together takes a little bit of magic, for sure, which is part of the PR appeal.

It uses existing assets well. This was one of the measurements used by The Guardian’s “cities brand barometer,“which ranked Chicago 13 out of 57 major cities with the most “powerful brands.” Turning the river green makes use of Chicago’s greatest physical asset. Imagine trying the same stunt in a city like New York, where the rivers run along the edges of Manhattan and are accessible only at certain areas. Chicago’s river, by contrast, winds its way west directly through the heart of the city’s downtown, allowing for maximum exposure and enjoyment by onlookers, who can easily view the spectacle from many vantage points. Cities that promote themselves well know how to take their greatest assets and turn them into PR gold. And that’s a worthy goal for St. Patrick’s Day, or any day.

It’s big. When attempting a PR stunt, it’s not the time to be bashful or think conservatively. The whole notion of a stunt is in-your-face, over-the-top, attention-grabbing, so think big. The idea of turning the entire river green is big enough (and bizarre enough that it had to happen by accident) that it elicits an incredulous reaction from people — which is precisely what a good stunt ought to do.

There’s a smart tie-in. Doing a stunt like a green river for St. Patrick’s Day makes sense in a city like Chicago, with its large Irish population dedicated to keeping its heritage alive and strong. The demographic has also played an important role in the city’s political history, so a big splash on St. Paddy’s Day is apropos.

How To Use B2B PR For Lead Generation

Can the right B2B PR program generate customer leads? Our answer is a qualified “yes.” The key lies in knowing how to generate earned media articles in quality publications, in addition to great company-produced or “owned” content. The result can be a 1 + 1 = 3 boost in SEO rankings and desirable referral traffic.

According to a recent survey of 5000 B2B marketers from the Content Marketing Institute, 86% of respondents are using content marketing as a formal business discipline, and 70% are producing more content than one year ago. But what they may not have is a strategic PR program designed to generate trade or business interviews, bylined articles, company features, customer testimonials and executive speaking opportunities that can be merchandised to prospects.

Here are best practices for using B2B PR to generate leads.

Have SEO and PR work together. If those functions are being handled by separate agencies or divisions, make them talk to one another. Although the languages are different, the lines between the two disciplines are increasingly blurring, and the outcomes should be aligned. Even if your PR program is designed to support brand reputation rather than to promote products or services, it will be useful to coordinate content schedules and topics.

Step up the earned media placement. Media created by the company, like press releases or blog content, are important, but earned media from reputable publications and blogs is typically more credible. A profile in a trade magazine or a quote in a business media is often more persuasive than a company post, and trusted publications confer a high domain authority, which boosts SEO.

Use keywords judiciously. By generating original material containing industry-specific keywords, B2B PR can increase high-quality inbound links to a website that will boost page rank. But Google prizes fresh, high-quality, and original content that reads like it was written by human beings, so good practitioners refrain from keyword stuffing and focus on a mix of earned and original content. A good ratio is 2-to-1 for owned vs. earned.

Tap advocates. Customer or partner testimonials, analyst commentary, interviews by key journalists and trade show opportunities can imply third-party endorsement, which drives measurable outcomes like page rank and authority from referring sites. But it also promotes the intangible – but priceless – attribute of credibility.

Market ideas and advice, not products and services. Those without the traditional PR mindset tend to go for the hard-sell; however, a more journalistic approach that focuses on what is truly newsworthy, or that offers tips of service to customers, is far more likely to attract and engage prospects.

Maximize use of B2B social platforms. Most marketers are already using LinkedIn as a content platform, but some may be surprised by Twitter’s power, particularly when it comes to users of B2B technology services. A study undertaken by Twitter and intelligence company Compete shows that Twitter users visit B2B tech sites at a higher rate than ordinary web users, and they convert at more than double the rate of non-Twitter people. PR experts know that Twitter’s also a powerful place to engage journalists and tech analysts, so it deserves to be part of every B2B content program.

5 Tips For Managing Powerful PR Personalities

You’ve assembled a top-notch team of PR professionals who bring a range of perspectives and skills to your organization. It’s an interesting mix of different personalities and skill sets that complement and challenge each other — well done!

That said, it’s a good bet your team comprises members with a mix of various rankings in the “Big Five” personality traits, with surprisingly significant consequences for work relationships. Dealing with staff personality traits doesn’t have to be a conundrum, however. With the right insights and approach, there are ways to smoothly work through what friction might arise over the normal course of the week.

Here are our tips for navigating the personality roadmap:

The Open employee can illustrate non-obvious possibilities and develop insights that are occasionally revolutionary. Sometimes, their very openness makes it difficult for them to stay grounded, so it’s important to focus or redirect when necessary.

The Conscientious have invaluable discipline, reliability and impulse control — capable of keeping the team going when a deadline or other problem seems insurmountable. Watch out for excessive discipline — failure to recognize and embrace the humanity of others on a team which can lead to alienation.

The Extrovert is the PR team cheerleader, bringing boundless enthusiasm that infects and inspires others, especially when a pitch is going south or a budget has been slashed. But watch for the extrovert who becomes overbearing or impulsive, and find ways to encourage her/him to share the spotlight.

The Agreeable smooths over just about any human interaction, particularly when stronger personalities are stressing over decisions or direction. But being agreeable or deferential to the point of never expressing one’s true thoughts can be detrimental. And in PR, pushovers often suffer the consequences of inaction. Model proactive traits and draw opinions out of the “agreeable,” even if it means putting them on the spot once in a while.

The Neurotic lacks a certain emotional stability and tends toward overreaction. An ideal team member here ranks low on this trait. But if you want someone to anticipate potential problems, a higher level of reactivity isn’t bad!
Here are some further tips to managing the PR personalities on your team:

Create strategic alliances between complementary personality types. Team up your highly conscientious and open staffers — the combination of imagination and discipline is a winner. Or tame the excesses of your extrovert with your most agreeable member. They’ll encourage one another.

Carve out discrete roles for each member that accentuate skillsets. Determine who would be best to speak at conferences or attend networking events (that extrovert member) or who might be best to draft a white paper or other content (consider the conscientious).

Spend one-on-one time. Learn about their more nuanced skills by talking – you may find out your “neurotic” is actually a visionary pointing out potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Don’t stress if it isn’t “all Kumbaya all the time” It’s important that everyone respect one another but healthy discourse and disagreement are often a good thing, producing new ideas and directions.

Encourage the team to challenge leadership. Demonstrate “openness” and value challenges to the status quo that can help achieve business goals.

Why Do Women At PR Agencies Earn Less?

There’s a gender wage gap at PR agencies and in our industry overall, and it’s getting worse. According to the latest PRWeek/Bloom, Gross & Associates Salary Survey, women in PR earn significantly less than their male counterparts on average. Among those with less than five years experience, men outearn women by $5500 annually. For more experienced PR pros, the gap balloons to a whopping $42,000, higher than the 2014 difference of $35,000.

The difference is particularly striking when you consider that women predominate in PR, particularly at PR agencies. So, why is this a problem, and what can we do about it?

Those interviewed by PR Week call for pay transparency, strict equality standards for starting salaries, and for change to be institutionalized by agency leaders, beginning with their own teams. Dale Bornstein of M Booth insists that the discrepancy is not a gender issue and that “the worst thing we can do is make it about gender.”

I take Dale’s point, which I think is that talent is gender-blind. Any hiring practice that values one gender or ethnicity, etc. over another is undermining its own service offering. But in most cases, the problem isn’t overt discrimination. What’s more, I believe that gender does have something to do with the gap, whether it’s driven by the agency culture or not. (I also suspect that the feminization of our industry makes well-qualified men more sought after, and possibly, better paid as a result.) At the end of the day, agency leaders may have the power to fix the problem, but it’s not as simple as mandating pay equality.

Wendy Marx gets closer to the heart of the matter in a Fast Company piece about the PR gender issue, including the long-lamented fact that most top agencies are run by men (more on that in a separate post.) Her analysis offers practical advice for those underpaid women who actually work in PR, like not dropping off the career track, being comfortable with financials, and learning to “have swagger” and stop apologizing.

But there’s another factor at work here, and I think it comes down to how we’re taught (or not) to negotiate. Women don’t always demand what we’re worth. Of the female business graduates offered jobs in a Carnegie Mellon study, only 7% attempted to negotiate. But 57% of their male counterparts asked for a higher starting salary. Maybe even more telling are the metaphors chosen by the study participants. Men likened salary negotiations to sports, while women compared them to a dentist visit. That’s a painful insight.

To maximize your earning potential, you have to advocate for yourself. Women are sometimes conditioned to wait for the recognition that we’re told will surely come if we work hard, keep our heads down, and do better than everyone else. Of course, that recognition may never arrive unless we take matters into our own hands. So, in addition to leaning in, the women who work in PR may need to start pushing back at the first salary offer they receive, as well as making our own case for why our work is worth as much – or more – than that of others.

How To Boost PR With The Right Non-Profit Partner

Companies choose to support non-profits for many reasons, not all of which involve public relations. A philanthropic commitment is often the result of legitimate alignment with ethical principles or social responsibility, as well as a goal to be identified with a specific cause or community. Historically, when these partnerships work, the benefits to both parties are impressive, as was the case when one of our clients, a telecommunications brand, began working with local domestic violence shelters to provide cellphones and needed financial support to women in crisis. The program now connects survivors to resources across the nation, and its good works are profiled in major media on a regular basis.

But such mutually beneficial partnerships don’t happen by accident. When making the decision to partner with a non-profit, here are some steps to follow.

Get input from employees. Sure, the C-suite has its priorities and passions, and the marketing and PR teams will certainly need to weigh in, but some of the most valuable input may come from the rank and file. Make your teams part of the process and glean some fresh perspective.

Biggest not always best.  It’s very easy to go with a “brand-name” organization such as the American Red Cross or United Way, both of whom do tremendous work, but do their brand personalities match up with yours? And would your donation be large enough to allow your company a real voice in PR and promotional outreach? Ask these questions, and keep in mind that a smaller, “under-the-radar” organization will likely provide more flexibility when designing a partnership. Its work may also be under-reported, providing interesting PR opportunities for both partners.

Vet your prospective partner. This one’s obvious, but you’ll want to go beyond a simple search. And it’s wise to use a charity-rating tool to the evaluate financial health and accountability of any nonprofit you align with. Sites like and evaluate and rate nonprofits based on their transparency and financial reports.

Partner credibly.  Ask this question – is the proposed relationship credible? Is it consistent with and supportive of the image of each party in the court of public opinion? If the partnership is a strategic disconnect for either party on any level, the collaboration needs to be rethought or even abandoned altogether. A big-box retailer may want to partner with a “green” company to add depth to its environmental commitment, or for employee training or customer education; or, it may simply want to engage in “greenwashing,” in which case the credibility of both parties will be damaged.

Spell out your requirements. Once a partner has been vetted and conversations have begun, make the needs of the company known and get the agreement in writing. Many non-profits are very sophisticated and selective when brokering partnerships, so always pay attention to the “fine print.”