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Richard Branson, giant lamingtons and the art of the media stunt

Ben Ready is Managing Director of RG Communications. He has been a journalist and communications professional for nearly 20 years.

Ben Ready is Managing Director of RG Communications and Villain Designs. He has been a journalist and communications professional for nearly 20 years.

Richard Branson and his Virgin brand have become synonymous with successful media stunts. By driving tanks through New York’s Times Square to shaving his legs and dressing as a hostess on a rival’s airline Branson has managed to build an entire brand and personal persona around his outlandish stunts. The media fawns and laps up every one of them and it is worth millions in earned media to the Virgin brand. It’s not just brands embracing the stunt. In an environment where policy takes a backseat to visibility the media stunt has become a staple of the political class and their galleries. Craig Emerson’s awful ‘no Whyalla wipe-out’ remains burned in many people’s memory as a stunt that went horribly wrong – or cunningly good. So what makes a great stunt? One of the most successful stunts I have ever seen happened 10 years ago (can you believe that Scott?). On Australia Day 2005, Bakery franchise operator Brumby’s created the world’s biggest lamington to help raise funds for CARE Australia’s tsunami appeal. The massive lamington was created in Melbourne’s Federation Square with people being offered a slice of the historic sponge cake in return for a gold coin donation to CARE Australia. The media went nuts with more than 500 media mentions of the event. Thousands was raised for tsunami recovery and Brumby’s and CARE had their brands splashed from one end of the country to the other. There are a number of common elements to all successful media stunts. Great visuals Media stunts live and die on their visual appeal. The more ridiculous (see Richard Branson above) and left field the better. Who doesn’t want to see what the world’s biggest lamington looks like? Great visuals are not something you can fake or do half-hearted. It will require money, sometimes lots of money, planning, time and creativity. Have a purpose As with all news there needs to be a hook; a basis for why it is important for the media to cover. Strong visuals is not generally enough. The Brumby’s lamington stunt was conceived to raise funds for Asian tsunami survivors. The purpose was to raise money, the stunt was the way to draw attention to the purpose. Self promotion to improve your brand awareness is not really a purpose. Get your timing right Timing is one of the most important aspects of a successful stunt. Try and develop a concept that can be flexible with timing and find a ‘slow’ news day. Unless there is a direct link don’t coincide with public holidays, major events (footy finals) or other things that soak up media resources. Stunts are generally covered once all the real news has been covered. Get social Social media has added a new dimension to media stunts. Make sure you utilise all of your owned media channels to promote the stunt. Create your own event #hashtag and engage with online influencers to get the word out. Avoid killing animals From the media’s perspective there is only one thing better than a good media stunt and that is a media stunt that goes horribly wrong. Dead goldfish are a no-no.