Few CEOs are good nurtured or daring enough to bungee-jump off a skyscraper in a tuxedo, play dress up, or drive an amphibious car through the waves of the English Channel, and do it all with an affable smile.
To many, it is surprising how the eccentric billionaire, Richard Branson, is able to pull off spectacular PR campaigns that garner plenty of buzz for his Virgin brand. Branson’s branding success can be attributed to his mastering of how to engage his target audience using carefully crafted publicity stunts that keep him and his brand relevant.
Here are some PR lessons you can learn from the ‘undisputed king of PR.’
Pulling off a successful PR stunt requires that you thoroughly understand your audience—their needs, wants and interests, and perhaps anticipate their reaction to your message.
For Branson, many of his PR campaigns edge on the fun, risqué, different and classy—this espouses Virgin’s target audience in general. His keen understanding of the brand’s audience allows him to undertake seemingly extreme measures to convey a specific message. But, his ‘extreme’ stunts have worked most of the time in terms of creating long-lasting buzz and publicity for the service or product he is promoting, because the message resonates with the target audience.
Branson always advocates for listening to the customer, emphasizing the need to make a good first impression and an even better second impression. By being responsive to customers’ needs and feedback, Virgin is then able to carefully craft public relations campaigns that resonate with their existing customers and prospective ones.
The mention of Richard Branson quickly conjures images of an excited, adrenaline-pumped daredevil who is willing to go the extra mile to do whatever it takes to promote his products and services, and to keep his brand relevant.
Most brands’ idea of a PR campaign is a decent event that will not create too many large waves but one that will generate sufficient media attention.
But, decency and being conservative are not what Branson advocates. On the contrary, he is all about being ready to poke fun at himself and doing what no one else is daring enough to do. It is no wonder that when Branson launches a product, the waves and splashes last for the long-term, therefore keeping the Virgin brand visible front, back and center.
At the heart of his success is Branson’s masterful storytelling skill. This is probably what separates him from the rest of the CEO pack.
According to Branson, while press releases and data are important, these are not interesting to consumers. A better approach is to infuse this official information with entertaining, catchy and maybe even radical stories that your target audience can relate to.
Each of Branson’s PR stunts is about telling a story about the inspiration behind the product or service he is launching. During the launch of Virgin Galactic, a sub-orbital space travel service, the savvy marketer went to press conferences dressed in an astronaut suit to help market the travel service.
Virgin could have chosen to just issue a press release and hold a mundane press conference to mark the launch of Virgin Galactic. However, by dressing up like an astronaut and transforming himself into the image of Buzz Aldrin, he generated widespread interest and coverage for his new service.
A press release and data would be long forgotten but Branson’s image, dressed as an astronaut is etched in the minds of space enthusiasts and would-be customers.
Authenticity probably sits awkwardly with the practice of PR. Public relations, as most people know it is about crafting gimmicky, exaggerated and sometimes untruthful stunts just for the sake of publicity.
In the age of social media, it has become increasingly easy for consumers to unmask insincere brands and individuals.
Branson, who is also a master of social media marketing, emphasizes the need to be truthful in how you present your brand and how you communicate your stories.
Consumers want brands that are genuine, take responsibility, admit mistakes; brands that spread a dose of fun without concocting lies.
As Branson asserts, ‘Do not try to be someone you are not. Be yourself.’ Without conveying authenticity, you risk damaging your brand’s reputation for good.
Consumers are utilizing different communication mediums and this gives brands a chance to get creative and spread their stories through these different channels.
PR is no longer about press releases and newspaper coverage only. Leverage the power of social, visuals, video and mobile to engage a wider audience in a way that that is fun and convenient to them.
Branson is not just a master of putting up spectacular shows at press conferences. He also engages his audience and promotes his brand via social media, his personal blog, and through video content.
Success in PR is about keeping up with the unfolding trends, especially in digital technology, to be able to engage your audience in a way that makes sense to them.
You do not have to fly across the world in a hot air balloon or dress up like a bride in the classic Richard Branson style. You also do not require a large budget to launch successful PR campaigns. What’s really necessary is a ton of creativity, an understanding of your target audience, the ability to remain authentic and a lot of courage to do what others are too timid to do.
Featured Image courtesy of Hardo Muller