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

Forget The Greatest Showman – was P.T Barnum ‘The Greatest SPINman’ of all time?

If you haven’t been aware of The Greatest Showman bubble we’ve all been living in since Christmas, do you even own a phone with acceptable 3G coverage? (or clearly you haven’t been paying the Wifi bill in your student houses).

Because if Hugh Jackman Gifs are not dominating your Twitter, or Zac Efron all up on your Facebook newsfeeds, then you’ve definitely heard the glorious soundtrack that’s been number 1 on iTunes for as long as Apple have had, well, an apple, as their logo.

For those of you who weren’t like me and went to see the musical phenomenon 3 times… yes, you did read that right (“the biggest-grossing original live-action musical EVER”)!

Showtime gif (1)

But let me assure you, there are *no spoilers* in this Blog.

However, what this blog is written about is the very man (played by the delightful Hugh Jackman) that this global movie is ‘loosely’ based on – the infamous life of the legendary showman and crowd-pleaser Phineas T Barnum, which many historical critics argue is “the man who in the 19th century possibly invented entertainment as we know it today.”

He may have invented entertainment, but he also invented his own style of questionable PR.

A man full of bigger-than-life ideas – Barnum marketed to an audience interested in mass, and often crass, entertainment regardless of how factual or ethical such displays were.


With the real question being… did PT Barnum use PR in an ethical way? Especially, when The Greatest Showman – the movie – is feel-good, joyful viewing, painting a celebratory “body-positive evangelism for diversity” and celebrating those in the world who are unashamedly different.

These different people – the ‘human freaks’ – in “the movie about a circus” have their backgrounds and anatomical achievements humorously exaggerated just a trifle by PT… for publicity purposes (of course). As the famous lyrics are musically sung by the All-Star cast – “impossible comes true… this is the greatest show.”

Greatest Showman Gif

Impressively, the ‘Irish Giant’ on the advertising posters wasn’t actually Irish. But the circus audience didn’t know that one… as PT says in the movie “the press will love it!”

However, the arguable thing about the real Barnum recorded in history, is that he was known to have presented “freakishness” in the form of “living curiosities” through active exploitation.

And although it’s not a spoiler, this explains why the movie shows so angry protesters outside the circus after every performance.

Unlike in the movie, which in musical style rejoices “I am me, I am who I’m meant to be” about the uniqueness of human beings, Barnum and his colleagues are said to have created ethnic stereotypes when cordoning off this swath of humanity as “different”.

The Guardian writes: “Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump has been frequently likened by political pundits to PT Barnum. A professional bullshitter with a penchant for loud rhetoric, fake news and racial prejudice? He doesn’t play down the comparison.”

So Donald Trump is the new PT Barnum?

I suppose the White House HAS been actively referred to as a ‘Circus’ in the past year…

In 1865, Barnum’s book Humbugs of the World aimed to inform the public he wasn’t a con-man – that he hadn’t achieved his rags-to-riches success story by scamming the public.

He wrote: “There are various trades and occupations which need only notoriety to insure success,” he claimed – concluding no harm, no foul, so long as at the end of the day customers felt like they got their money’s worth.

As the song suggests from the movie – “It’s everything you ever want, it’s everything you ever need.”

I could go as far as to say PT Barnum was a remarkable publicity man who knew how to work Public Relations in his career… to HIS advantage. (Maybe just not so much the people he caught in his webs whilst spinning whatever he could to achieve whatever he wanted).

The Greatest Showman musical has just reached a whopping $160.766m domestic total in the cinema, and let’s be honest ‘The Greatest Showman’ is what you will find – in PT Barnum or in Hugh Jackman’s efforts alone –  whether you agree with it or not.

It’s a thumbs up from me. 

showman end (1)

Chloe Campbell is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University.  LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/chloe-campbell-337b26152 / Facebook: Chloe Campbell

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 www.blairwitch.com (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