Why it’s good to be disruptive in PR campaigns

20 March 2015, Blog

Being disruptive is normally not good for your reputation, but it’s a technique increasingly being deployed by PRs to get their clients noticed for all the right reasons.

Disruptive communications was borne out of guerrilla marketing which as Jay Conrad, the father of guerrilla marketing, defined as “a body of unconventional ways of pursuing conventional goals.”

Ironically disruptive communications has emerged as a significant opportunity in the PR industry by virtue of the fact that the sector itself has been disrupted, particularly with the growth of social media where all companies are now effectively media owners with an ability to produce and publish their own content with phenomenal reach.

The big challenge with disruptive PR is convincing a client to be brave and try something different rather than going for the tried and tested safe option. That’s why it’s important any such campaign supports a client’s overall strategy and isn’t just done for the sake of being seen to be different.

We came across some great recent examples of disruptive communications

The Yorkshire Building Society, a sponsor of the televised Tour de France’s Grand Départ event in 2014, came up with the novel idea of dying a herd of 150 sheep yellow, which represented the colour of the race’s yellow leader’s jersey. The sheep were located in a field along the route of the first stage of the race. Adding a CSR element to the campaign, sweaters were made from the wool and donated to charities for families in need.

The sheep generated phenomenal interest on social media with some 290,000 results for “yellow sheep tour de france”.

When research revealed to British Airways that it was out of touch with the entrepreneurial spirit of the West Coast in the USA, despite providing most direct flights from the UK to the area, it decided to do something very different.

The company launched a campaign called “UnGrounded” to communicate its concealed inventive spirit, which involved the creation of an innovation lab in the sky, bringing together more than 100 technologists, company founders, academics and entrepreneurs on a hackathon flight from San Francisco to London. After landing in London, the UnGrounded flight’s team members presented their work to the UN’s sponsored Decide Now Act (DNA) Summit and the Secretary General of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union.

The impact of the campaign was significant. Premium business from San Francisco International Airport increased 20% year-over-year; revenue from small and midsize businesses went up 10%; 26 concepts and four winning ideas were generated during the hackathon; and 90 unique articles in major media outlets were published.

So what does it take to be disruptive? We came across a great blog which focused on three key attributes for successful disrupters. 

Being Disagreeable: they don’t work only to please others and don’t get entangled in lip-service.

Reframe the problems: they reimagine their world by reframing the problem in a way no one had framed it before. And out of this they look at unconventional opportunities that we otherwise ignore.

Constraints don’t bother them they constantly think about problem or a situation, over and over until they get that thought you were waiting for

Disruptive communications can be good for business but it comes with a health warning. As with any communications campaign you must be aware of what’s going on around you.  The example of Cartoon Network in America is a perfect illustration.

The company decided to launch a guerrilla marketing campaign in which they set up LED lights in various places throughout cities to promote one of their cartoons. A resident in Boston, however, thought the devices were bombs and called the police. This turned into a terrorism scare, resulting in the shut-down of many public transportation lines, bridges, and roads.

The problem cost the head of Cartoon Network his job and the broadcasting company $2 million in compensation for the emergency response team. Although, this example is a bit extreme, it serves a good warning against what could happen to you and your business if you don’t think things through adequately.


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