Why do the best PR campaigns work?

The idea that any PR is good PR just isn’t true. There are good campaigns, there are bad campaigns, and – sometimes – there are outstanding campaigns that transform the way the world sees a business, a person, a product or a cause.

Examples of highly successful PR campaigns in recent years include the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull space diving project and Coca Cola’s personalised bottles. So what connects them?

1. Clear call to action

Before starting to think of targets and ideas you have to know what you’re wanting to achieve. Whether it be to reposition the company, build awareness of a new product, attract more followers online or achieve third party endorsement, having a clear goal in mind is essential.

The instigators of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which we want viral on social media in 2014, also recognised the value of a clear objective. They recognised that boosting awareness of ALS (also known as motor neuron disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease) would encourage more donations to support research. The simplicity of this message, combined with the recognition that supporting such a good cause (and being seen to support it), was instrumental in making the campaign go viral.

By knowing what success will look like, you can better steer your strategy and activation towards achieving it.

2. Great audience understanding

Great PR campaigns also tend to have a clear understanding of their target audience and what is likely to encourage them to pay attention and take the desired action. It is vital to know your audience, where they go for information and inspiration, and what makes them tick.

Red Bull has aligned its brand with extreme sports to promote its product as the fuel for high-energy activity and athleticism. By funding Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space, Red Bull reached the pinnacle of extreme sports and ensured it was positioned positively with an enormous audience of extreme sports enthusiasts, as well as fans and participants for less extreme activities worldwide.

3. Consistent campaigning

While one off events like the Red Bull Space Jump can have fantastic impact as a standalone event, part of its success was the heritage and association Red Bull has already established in the extreme sports arena.

It can be easy to get carried away with new ideas – to keep reinventing the wheel in order to boost awareness, interest and sales. It is important to remember that the best campaigns have longevity and seek to communicate key messages with consistency over time.

Research suggest that someone needs to experience a message or idea around seven times for it to stay with them. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge delivered this and then some, with the added bonus that the message was being communicated consistently by people the audience trusted (mainly their friends).

4. Creative ideas

Ah, creativity, the holy grail of a great campaign… or so it might seem.

Creativity in PR is important because the human mind assigns greatest importance to the issues or ideas that are most easily retrieved from memory.

So a good, original creative idea that conveys your message in a convincing and memorable way can make a big difference to a campaign’s overall impact.

But truly novel new ideas are also be incredibly hard to come by and almost as difficult to execute. There is, however, an awful lot that can be achieved by building on what has been done before – taking an existing idea a step further, for instance, or blending two existing ideas to create a new one, are valid approaches.

Coca-Cola was by far and away not the first organisation to personalise its products. Starbucks, for instance, had been writing customer names on coffee cups for years. It was a practical step designed to ensure the right people got the right order. However, it also added more charm to the experience.

Coca-Cola tapped into that charm by being the first large soft-drinks maker to personalise its packaging. It produced bottles bearing the most popular 250 names in the US, generating a huge amount of coverage and share of everyday conversations by gamifying the beverage buying experience (can you find one with your name on it?), and – ultimately – creating a more intimate bond with its customers.

Applying these lessons to businesses of all sizes

While one could argue that Red Bull and Coca-Cola were household names before launching these activities, and that the awareness and budget that comes with this is very helpful when getting a new campaign off the ground, businesses of all sizes can learn from the factors that helped make these ideas successful.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – which attracted 17 million participants worldwide and over $100 million in donations in the US alone – shows that you don’t need a big budget to deliver a game-changing campaign.

With a little thought, any business can tap into the power of the factors that helped these activities land with such an impact and propel themselves forward with a great PR campaign. To discover a little more about how we make that happen, check out our Portfolio pages.