By Olivia Katulka
That’s exactly how it went down during my morning routine Twitter scroll last June. How dare they ditch their glorious pancakes and flip my world upside down. I was ticked off to say that least.
IHOP vs. IHOb
The guesses as to what that unwanted “B” stood for started to roll in—the obvious one, breakfast. That kind of made sense considering every time I dined there, I got an omelet rather than a short stack. Sue me.
But, no. The new name for the popular food chain was now International House of Burgers. Come again?
Although many were thrown off, and not too sure how they felt about this change, the possibility this was all a joke remained in the back of our heads. Until . . . IHOP started to change the physical signs at its locations and a verified Twitter account came to be. Was this for real?
By mid-July, IHOP revealed it had possibly played the cruelest and cleverest joke I’ve ever experienced in my life. One week it had my blood boiling ready to boycott the restaurant’s burgers (and even breakfast); the next, I’m heaving deep sigh of relief knowing I no longer have to give up the Big Steak Omelette.
Unforgettable PR tactics that leave your customers wanting more
Publicity stunts are strategies used to promote brands in unforgettable ways. Recently, they’re happening left and right, and there are some to take notice of.
IHOP practically tricked the entire country this summer, which sparked a ton of coverage all over the internet. The Washington Post posted a list of reactions to the IHOb name change, and the responses were genuine and rather hilarious.
Country Time, the well-known lemonade brand, also gained some impressive publicity traction this summer. Now it didn’t carry out a massive, national prank like IHOP, but it sure got some positive attention through some sweet community service.
The company announced in June it would provide money to cover any fines given to children selling lemonade without a permit. Its effort to support our kids and their entrepreneurial endeavors speaks directly to the parents buying their product—(and anyone who takes the time to backup my kid can gladly take my money).
Country Time funded its “Legal-Ade” campaign until the end of August and successfully paid off unnecessary fines throughout the summer season. The company’s passion to help out these kids inspired Americans to support local neighborhood lemonade stands, creating more demand for its product.
There are many other ways to pull off a publicity stunt. A cruel (but clever) joke or an inspiring random act of kindness are just a couple of examples. But either way you slice it, a stunt can have a huge effect on your small business, if you can pull it off.
Now, I know it may be close to impossible for smaller companies to get this kind of coverage and media attention, but that doesn’t mean the same benefits can’t be achieved on a local level. Although your audience may be drastically smaller than those of IHOP and Country Time, using creative PR strategies can still have the same effect on a smaller scale. Just as Country Time made the effort to get real personal with America’s youth (and their parents), you can immerse your business within your community to achieve similar results.
Preparation is key to business success
When it comes to planning a publicity stunt, there are some things you should take into consideration. A publicity stunt can go from stellar to stumped real quick, and it’s up to you to take the steps needed to avoid mishaps. Some stunts come with significant risks, and that means there are many opportunities for things to go wrong.
So I’ll say it again: You MUST prepare for events like this.
The first thing you need to consider is whether you have the budget to pull off a particular stunt. For example, you may not run a national company like Red Bull, which back in 2012, sent up an Austrian skydiver to plummet back down to earth from space. Yes, you heard that right: outer space, where all the planets and stars float around. It took Red Bull five years to prepare, and the company invested close to $65 million to launch Felix Baumgartner down a 24-mile skydive.
Now, if you have $65 million dollars lying around as a small business owner, you may not need a publicity stunt. But, for those of you that don’t, you can definitely accomplish a small-scale event if you have the appropriate funds available, and the time to assemble such an event.
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Publicity stunt flops: Do your homework
There are plenty of large corporations that have attempted stunts, but ended up losing in the long run. When you are brainstorming a PR strategy, make sure that it won’t have an adverse effect on your brand. Remember that no matter what you do, your business reputation is always affected—and whatever you do, make sure a stunt will boost your company instead of destroy it.
For instance, LifeLock, an identity theft protection company, thought it would be clever to plaster company CEO Todd Davis’s Social Security number all over billboards and commercials in 2007. The plan was to prove that LifeLock could indeed protect your identity if someone were to get their hands on your personal information.
Davis’s identity was eventually stolen 13 times after the campaign began, and his company was fined $12 million by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising. This shows that even corporations which may have the budget (and then some) can still mess up. Take the time to analyze every angle of what could possibly happen—you may be surprised to find out your plan is actually well thought out!
Branding, branding, branding!
Small businesses can really flourish if they get involved in their community. Not only could a PR stunt help build a relationship with your customers, it could also open the doors to spark growth. But, to achieve this, remember that a stunt is only successful if the audience remembers the brand that was behind the madness. What’s the point of a publicity stunt if the people don’t remember who carried it out?
Many of you can picture that scene where Oprah yelled: “YOU GET A CAR! YOU GET A CAR!” Honestly, who doesn’t remember that—and where’s my free car? And if your memory is clear, what kind of car were they getting? This is a great example that everyone uses to show why you need to convey your brand in every message you deliver. Not a lot of people remember that Pontiac G6s were handed out that day, but when you pull off an unforgettable event, make sure your brand is all over it.
The goal is to accelerate awareness of your company and boost sales. Whether it’s a product or a service you provide, you want people to associate that memory with your brand. Later on, you’ll see an increase in traffic on your website, or more people coming through your storefront.
I’ll probably never forget that IHOP changed its name to IHOb. And I’m sure the kids who got their fines paid off with Country Time will be grateful for the help for years to come.
Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t go big
If your plan for a PR stunt is ready for liftoff, don’t be afraid if it’s something you’ve never done before. As long as you’ve done your homework and are prepared, even a small company can pull off an epic publicity stunt that people will never forget, especially if it helps you to improve sales improve or build necessary relationships within your community.
When life gives you lemons . . . yadda, yadda, yadda. The phrase is true and all, but you need to be creative and make it your own—just like IHOP did. When life gives you pancake batter, make burgers.