3 of the most iconic PR stunts of all time

A few people realise that PR practitioners are the invisible puppet masters pulling the strings behind every element of media you see today.

Of course, you’ll not be able to recount the 1,000s of campaigns you’re exposed to each week, but there are campaigns that tend to leave a lasting impression on your memory, without even realising that they are the result of a carefully crafted engineered process by the PR practitioner.

In recent years the internet has transformed how we interpret and receive messages, this has in turn meant that PR stunts have become quite transparent. Seemingly the truly iconic PR stunts of all time took place 50+ years ago!

Let’s talk about this iconic image:

Marilyn Monroe "Seven Year Itch", 1955
Marilyn Monroe “Seven Year Itch”, 1955

To some it would seem Ms. Monroe was the victim of a poorly timed subway train causing her skirt to billow, giving photographers ammunition to capture the most iconic image ever.

At the time, Marilyn was attending a photo call to promote her movie ‘The Seven Year Itch’. Just as photographers began to assemble, a wind machine hidden under the steel grate was activated, the result of a carefully orchestrated stunt by the movie publicists who were responsible for not only an iconic image for the movie but it’s the image which people remember when they think of the iconic Marilyn Monroe.

Of course stunts don’t have to simply increase a celebrity profile, they are often done for the greater good.

During the 1920’s the intensity for equality for women after the war heightened, after all the notions of traditional gender roles was contradicted when women proved they could do the same work as men, and do it better.


The symbol of women’s liberation came from an unlikely source, cigarettes. At the time the social stigma attached to women smoking was rife. By no means was George Washington Hill concerned with the liberty of women’s rights, however he was hungry for success. He drafted in PR’s founding father, Edward Bernay, to help with his endeavour.

On March 31st, 1929, during the Easter parade, led by Bertha Hunt (Bernay’s secretary), who lit up a lucky strike cigarette on fifth avenue, other women soon followed. Combined with the papers reporting enthusiastically of the event, branding cigarettes as ‘torches of freedom,’ seen Bernay’s replaced the social stigma surrounding cigarettes and repositioned them to a symbol of freedom.

Moving on to more modern times, the Queensland Tourism campaign was dubbed one of the most successful tourism campaigns ever.  In 2009, the tourism board began their search for applicants to fill the ‘Best Job in the World’ role. The primary objectives for the campaign was to generate global awareness of the Great Barrier ReeAS3f in Queensland and to increase visitation to the Great Barrier Reef. With the intention to appeal to youthful travelers who wanted to seek a global travel experience.

Approximately there were 35,000 applicants spanning over 200 different countries who applied for the job with nearly AU$ 430 million public relations value generated.

An editor from the UK’s Sunday Times stated, “Not since Willy Wonka and the golden tickets hidden in chocolate bars, has something came along like this.”

The outcomes of the job advert seen global news coverage, listed 8th place on the world’s top 50 PR stunts of all time, a huge rise in visitors to Queensland and won huge awards. The successful applicant, Ben Southall from the UK was appointed caretaker of the Great Barrier Reef in 2009. During the role he was interviewed more than 450 times, visited 100 Queensland destinations and blogged throughout the entire trip, check it out by clicking the link below.


PR stunts are fantastic ways to get essentially ‘free’ media coverage for a brand. If a stunt is done well, the coverage is usually instant as these days people are always photographing and videoing, however, this is only on the basis that the stunt is interesting enough people feel it’s worth sharing. Carefully crafting a PR stunt and generating publicity for something which grabs the public’s attention is difficult, but the long lasting effect it has on a brand could be the key to the business’s life span and success.

Annie Shivers is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She is on Twitter at @ShiversAnnie and LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/annie-shivers-9085b810a

Crisis communication – the winners and the losers

Reputation management is associated with many to be at the forefront of all PR communicative activities.

But what happens when crisis strikes?

The academic literature surrounding crisis management has detailed theories regarding how a PR practitioner should react when their organisation comes under fire.

Benoit’s theory suggests deniability and often evasion of responsibility, while the academic Coombs agrees that a PR practitioner and an organisation should be wary before assuming responsibility for the crisis. Haywood believes in a fast track approach of telling it all, telling it fast and telling true, where Winner urges caution, relaying limited information in a timely sensitive manner to the public.

Seemingly most PR practitioners may agree that each crisis will require different strategies and methods to combat the crisis.

The speed of social media’s advancement has seen PR practitioners go one or two ways – fear the consequence of potential mishaps or embracing the prospect of enhanced visibility for their clients or organisations.

There are many more examples of when using social media to defuse a crisis goes incredibly wrong, but for our first example, we’re going to focus on when it goes very, very right.

AS2Whilst they are usually responsible for distributing aid to others, American Red Cross had to come to its own aid years ago, when an employee assumed he was tweeting from his personal account when actually, he tweeted from the official Twitter of American Red Cross.

The tweet went something like this,

“Ryan found 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzerd.”

Whilst American Red Cross hilariously responded to the crisis,

“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”giphy-downsized

Although they deleted the rogue tweet, the internet never keeps anything secret and it’s still available through a simple Google search.

Some academics and PR practitioners urged caution when deleting such messages on social media, however in the case of American Red Cross, they recognised their error quickly, combined their crisis communication plan with a combination of humility and light hearted humour resulting in the crisis being quickly dissolved and presented the charity in perhaps a more favourable light than they were pre crisis.

Dogfish Head also jumped on the bandwagon promoting the hashtag and encouraging people to donate to the American Red Cross.

Speaking of which, here’s some links you can make your donation:


Moving swiftly on to our next example, a charity currently under extreme scrutiny, Oxfam.AS1

This is a prime example of when an organisation handles a crisis wrong. Firstly, in 2011 Oxfam suppressed emerging stories of sexual misconduct claims and sacked those responsible for this. Some PR practitioners would agree that if they had opened up about these claims initially, they would have instilled a degree of confidence in the charity and it would have protected their reputation in the long run.

Unfortunately for Oxfam, nothing these days can stay hidden for long. This, combined with the increased visibility social media inherits, means the consequences of this decision in 2011 have been detrimental to the company’s reputation. This acts as a warning for all organisations, emphasising the need for an organised and effective crisis management plan that combats and resolves the issue the organisation faces.

These case studies highlight not only how any organisation can fall victim to a crisis, but interestingly introduces the notion that charities are held to a much more stringent standard than other corporations.

Please spare a few minutes to fill out the questionnaire linked below answering questions on how you feel organisations should respond in a crisis:


Annie Shivers is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She is on Twitter at @ShiversAnnie and LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/annie-shivers-9085b810a

With great power comes great responsibility…

With great power comes great responsibility…

We all want to see ourselves as somewhat ‘superheroes’ in whatever profession we find ourselves in. Something which we can be proud of when some asks the question, what is it you do for a living? Some are doctors, some are nurses, firemen and women, others, well others are PR practitioners.

What is a PR practitioner’s super power I hear you ask? The power of persuasionpow-1601674_960_720

Every day we are being exposed to thousands of messages, all persuading us to act or do something a certain way! It can be done through a restaurant’s drool-worthy Instagram of the food or the day or a popular influencer showing off an upcoming collection from a brand – this doesn’t seem too frightening, right? Right!

So why does this word leave such a foul taste in a PR practitioner’s mouth? Why do some feel it veers a little too close to propaganda? PR is all about persuasion! It’s not a dirty word, it’s not a word that should be whispered in the dead of night in a dark lit alley. Instead of wearing the art of persuasion like a badge of honour, we shy away from it, we purposely leave it out of definitions of the industry.

All PR practitioners don’t use their powers for evil, this is a common myth amongst publics and journalist who sometimes forget about the positive effect we can have in society through the power of persuasion.


Take a look at these next examples to highlight how life changing working in the PR industry can be!

Turning ‘left over women to power women’

The social expectation of China, is to marry young. Anyone over the age of 25 and who isn’t yet married is referred to as ‘Sheng Nu’ which translates to, ‘left over woman.’  In Shanghai, parents will pay to post ads and find matches for their children at the Marriage Market. The ads will list weight, height, income and a description of either their son or daughter’s personality. The children being advertised may not even know their ad is being listed.

Marriage Market in Shanghi
The Marriage Market in Shanghai.

A beauty brand in China, SK-II released a video in 2016 which promoted a woman’s right to exercise her freedom and to choose when she gets married and more importantly, who she gets married to. As part of this campaign, women who chose to defy their parents’ wishes and social pressure, printed images of themselves throughout the Marriage Market and with the tag lines delivering messages to their parents. One was, “I don’t want to get married for the sake of marriage. I won’t live happily that way.”

The campaign was designed to persuade and change the Chinese traditional way of thinking, not to marry for the sake of being married before becoming a ‘leftover woman,’ but to be proud of their daughters maybe unconventional, yet passionate views on marriage. See the campaign in action:



Like my addiction

This health campaign captured the world’s attention and inspired PR practitioners alike. Although a tad deceitful, it was all in good faith.

The Instagram account of Louise Delage documented a young girl’s flashy, jet set lifestyle causing her to gain 18,000 followers and an average of 50,000 likes per post in a short space of time. Although having an Instagram account is completely the norm for young adults these days, there was one problem.

Louise Delage didn’t exist.

The account was set up by a French PR agency on behalf of their health care client, Addict Aide. The campaign drew young adult’s attention to how easy it is to ignore the signs of addiction, but by liking the picture or video, you are also enabling it. It persuaded people to keep a watchful eye over people who may be suffering from addiction and notice silent cries for help.

Watch this eye opening campaign here:



Astonishingly, when the plot was revealed, the story was published in over 140 articles, it became a trending topic on Twitter and there was massive traffic to the Addict Aide website, bear in mind little money was given to promote the campaign. It was all through social media.

These amazing campaigns were only a few examples of the amazing things PR can do and the positivity it can spread.

Proving PR practitioners are not your stereotypical manipulative masterminds you see on movies or TV shows, they aim not just to highlight tough issues, but also provide solutions to tackle it, to change outdated suppressive social conventions and present a more forward thinking world.

From your friendly neighbourhood practising PR practitioner,


Annie Shivers is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She is on Twitter at @ShiversAnnie and LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/annie-shivers-9085b810a






Survival Guide to University – From a Final Year to a First Year.

This is a guide to help prosperous first year students get the low-down on all aspects of university life.

Let’s start with what you already may have figured out by now – no one is here to hold your hand! Probably the most difficult adjustment I felt when joining university was the strange feeling of being left on your own. For example, on my first day I was clueless about the documentation needed to register, or registering in general.

Of course I wasn’t alone, several friends were as oblivious as I was, if people tell you they know what they’re doing within the first two months – they’re lying… Most people are generally as clueless as you are, they just hide it better!

There may be guides to help you, but they disappear after the first week, the second semester rolls in and just when you think you have a handle on life at the Poly, block 21 appears on your timetable. Don’t bother standing in the mall, ferociously scanning the Jordanstown map with minutes to spare, you’re not going to find it. FYI – it’s in the Dalriada building.

You might think, “Why would a PR student need to venture to a medical building?” Well Freshers, welcome to Jordanstown’s wonderful, questionable, layout; the gift that keeps on giving.

Rest assured there will be days you will sleep in for your 9am lecture after a complete rager with your culchie housemates in the Bot, followed by a house party on Rugby Avenue. Do not do as I did and assume a taxi will take you there promptly – it won’t. In fact you’ll end up 30/40 minutes late and £15 poorer and the taxi will more or less drop you off at the lough and expect you to walk the rest of the way. Speaking of transport, if you’re planning on getting the UniLink, be sure to be there early, the first few weeks are when everyone tries to make an effort, meaning the queue for the bus will be packed.

In your first few weeks of class, suss out who the rich kid is, who has (luckily for you) decided to bring their car, lives in the Holylands and thinks they’re a cut above public transport. They are your first class ticket to free, comfortable journeys to class every day, and save you from the misery of a horrible hangover surrounded by people at 8am on a Goldliner.

Essential side note – when you’re hungover the Spar sausage rolls and a Starbucks caramel latte will be your almighty Saviour.

The final and most important tip to university is to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself, unless it’s people trying to sell you roses outside the Bot on a Wednesday. You will never be as carefree and have as little responsibility as you have now. HAVE FUN. No one looks back at their time at university and thinks about all those golden weeks (it is a fantastic achievement though).

First year is all about going on pub crawls around the big smoke, trying new things, meeting different people, and waking up to go to the Hatfield at 11.30am (another one for the culchies). P.S. The Hatfield is not the place to showcase that snazzy pair of Nike trainers you bought when the loan came in, trust me. A half zip and a lanyard with the keys to your swanky new dungeon in Damascus will suffice.

Purchasing Hatfield merchandise is always a good idea.

P.P.S. – when it comes to the end of the year and house inspections are looming, if you have a bedroom door off the hinges, a light fixture in the kitchen ripped from the ceiling and a broken fire extinguisher, (or any other household damage) the Holylands Handyman Jimmy and some trusty old superglue will save your dignity and of course, your deposit. Thank me later.


Annie Shivers is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She is on Twitter @ShiversAnnie and LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/annie-shivers-9085b810a