A Public Relations Formula Beyond Illusion

Mark RitsonMarch 9, 20092 min

A Public Relations Formula Beyond Illusion

PR is the most under-used and under-rated communication tool. This is largely because most managers believe their products are too mundane to garner media attention. David Blaine’s confinement in a box next to Tower Bridge should initiate a rethink. If a half-naked man doing nothing in an empty box for 44 days can capture hundreds of column inches worldwide, surely anything is possible?

There is nothing supernatural about a slightly unhinged American starving himself in quasi-solitary confinement. What is magical is Blaine’s incredible ability to generate, sustain, and manage a PR campaign – so much so that he provides five strategic lessons for managers contemplating PR as a method for promoting a new product or service.

First, Focus On A Pre-Launch Stage. Blaine spent a whole month promoting his London adventure. He knew a product’s most newsworthy period is, paradoxically, prior to its actual availability. A pre-launch stage builds up the momentum that propels a successful product.

Second, Make The Launch Itself A True Event. Blaine ensured audiences around the world read about or tuned in live as he entered the box. The day your product becomes available must be the biggest day in its history.

Turn that day into one, or preferably more than one, big event and work with the media to ensure immediate consumer awareness of your new offering.

When Southwest Airlines launched direct flights to Memphis, it invited Elvis impersonators to make the first journey. The ensuing images of 200 Elvis lookalikes arriving at Memphis, slightly the worse for wear, guaranteed great awareness.

Third, Make Sure Your PR Campaign Has ‘Legs’. After his internment, Blaine continued to appear in the media thanks to a series of issues, events and stories that ensured nobody forgot where he was or what he was doing.

An angry ex-Beatle, a concerned girlfriend and an egg-throwing woman were all part of a cleverly conceived plan to maintain media interest. Your new product may be big news for you but the secret of PR is finding fresh ways to make it interesting. Celebrity users and product anniversaries are two excellent methods for maintaining media interest.

Fourth, Different Media Require Different Angles Into The Story. The Times reviewed Blaine’s previous exploits, ABC News reported on the unruly behaviour of the British public and contrasted it with respectful American fans, New Scientist reviewed whether a man could survive without sodium for 44 days, and then me, a washed-up marketing professor writes about Blaine’s use of PR. Each contains the same kernel of information, but each is writing a very different story. A single press release is unlikely to be effective.

Each target media should be approached differently.

Finally, don’t try to do this without professional help. While everything may have appeared to be emanating from that little box hovering over the Thames, the HQ for this stunt was actually Manhattan, where PMK, the celebrity PR giant, monitored everything. Now that’s magic.

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Mark Ritson

One comment

  • Andy Willis

    March 9, 2009 at 4:58 pm


    Great article with one exception – Southwest Airlines doe NOT fly into Memphis (TN) – maybe some other Memphis. It is a violation of some route agreement or regulation.

    Other than that – I really love the piece and think it has important points for a revolutionary product we are about to launch!

    Andy Willis

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