Public Relations: Top Success Stories

Hi everyone! My name’s Chloe and I am currently studying Communications, Advertising and Marketing with Ulster University. As you have probably already guessed from the title, this course involves some modules in Public Relations; which I’m sure a lot of you find boring but hopefully that’s where I come in!

PR is not only relevant for businesses, we as consumers are affected by it everyday. PR can change everything; from what we think of a company to what we think of the world around us. On the most basic level, public relations is about professionally communicating with the public. But today, when consumers have all the power and it’s so much easier to flit from one brand to another, it can be a vital way of differentiating yourself from competitors.

So here are, in my opinion, the top 3 PR stunts which were hugely successful in terms of longevity, societal impact and profit.

Tour de France 

Believe it or not the Tour de France started as a PR event run by a newspaper company in France. In 1903 Henri Desgrange, former champion cyclist, decided to increase the awareness of his newspaper “The Bicycle,” which later became “The Car,” by organising a bike race. This bike race ran over 1500 miles over rough terrain and encouraged consumer involvement and commitment. The cyclists rode through the night; the roads weren’t paved like they are now so the conditions were terrible and yet it was such a success that it doubled the newspaper’s circulation and even managed to put rival papers out of business. The fact that it’s been over 100 years and people still flock to this annual, now international event just goes to show how powerful PR can be when done right.

Lucky Strike’s “Torches of Freedom”

Known now as the first PR campaign to ever be put into action, “torches of freedom” changed the way 1920s society thought about women smoking. In the 1920s Edward Bernays, known as “the father of public relations,” was employed by the American Tobacco Company and tasked with increasing the number of people who smoked cigarettes. During this time women’s rights were still being fought for in the US and Edward Bernays decided to use this to his advantage. Bernays informed different newspapers and media outlets that during NY’s Easter Sunday Parade women would be lighting their “torches of freedom.” People flocked to the parade and found 10 women marching, while smoking their Lucky Strikes cigarettes. It was a form of rebellion against a society that perceived smoking as unladylike, masculine and in some cases, even criminal. While Bernays and the American Tobacco Company may have ignored health implications in favour of sales, it can’t be denied that this had a big hand in changing the perception of female smoking, proving that even the way a society thinks can be influenced by PR.

The Blair Witch Project

While this didn’t really change the whole of society or inspire a 100-year-old event, the success of the viral PR campaign run by the creators of “Blair Witch Project” was so colossal that it has to be mentioned. For those of you who may not know, the film centres on three filmmakers who go missing in the woods while searching for a legend known as the “blair witch.” Their film is later “discovered” and pieced together. Before the release of this film, in 1998, Haxan Films created a website (which still exists today) and released information about the film as though it were completely real. For six months, information was added to the website as though it were only being discovered. They released tapes of footage to college campuses as though it were real and even handed out missing person flyers with the faces of the filmmakers. Everything about this movie was presented as a documentary, which increased awareness and created a kind of frenzy amongst the public.

All in all, this film which was created with only $20,000-$25,000 reeled in $248million at the box office. No independent movie has ever even come close to matching this success. This just proves that even without Facebook or YouTube, viral PR can generate success if you get creative enough.

So there you have it. I hope this clarified what PR is and how it can be used. Regardless of budget, PR is successful when you get creative, know your consumer and are aware of the world around you.

Chloe Peoples is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @ChloePeeps