Five top PR case studies
You can’t be the best if you’re not willing to learn from the best. TopLine founder Heather Baker lists five of the most inspirational – and envy-inducing – PR campaigns of the modern age!
These days at TopLine, PR is just one part of the agency’s massive, hulking, integrated comms Voltron. While we started off with a specific focus on getting clients excellent coverage in target media outlets – and FYI we were, are, and always will be very, very good at it – we soon realised that it didn’t always work for every client. Sometimes they’re better served by inbound marketing; sometimes only SEO will do the trick; and sometimes a video-led strategy will vastly outperform anything else you attempt.
But, like a perfectly executed free kick, when a PR campaign does come off, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s a little awkward when your competitors do something incredible, but sometimes you have to put professional envy to one side, admit your begrudging admiration, and surreptitiously work out what you might be able to steal/learn from it. These five PR case studies (listed in order of whim, rather than quality) in particular provide some excellent learning material for those starting out in the industry – and a necessary shock to the system for well-established agencies looking to stay on top.
Bathrooms and food are two closely associated things that should nonetheless never be thought about in the same sentence. Everybody knows about their specific relationship, and it’s usually best not to dwell on it. Sometimes, however, those things we’ve all politely agreed to never speak of publicly need to be dragged screaming into the light.
This was, I presume, the logic behind bathroomsweets.com – as much an exercise in avant-garde art as PR. Conducted for Bathrooms.com and ostensibly originating in a fairly lame pun (“sweets” = “suites”, geddit?), it calls to mind the work of both Marcel Duchamp and John Cadbury, and serves as an excellent example of how to sustain momentum over the course of a multi-phase campaign.
The twisted appeal of this PR case study can be explained in a single sentence: bathroom stuff, but made of chocolate. Chocolate bidets (shudder). Chocolate toilets (“not for the practical person”). Chocolate basins. It’s a fairly perverted kind of genius – and irresistible to all kinds of media outlets. Dynamo, the agency behind the campaign, anticipated a quick flurry of interest from major publications and websites looking for a quirky news item in the wake of their launch activities.
They certainly got it: it was covered by MSN, The Daily Express, and Stylist.co.uk, amongst others. Crucially, however, they made sure to turn this early buzz into engagement in trade and luxury media (it was covered in Good Housekeeping and HouseBeautiful, amongst others), international media (including The LA Times and ABC News in the US) and social outreach – before looping back to mainstream newspapers to pick up stragglers like The Independent and The Daily Mail.
Many PR dramas are much like natural disasters or unexpected pregnancies (but I repeat myself). They tend to come out of left field, and it’s hard to know exactly how to handle the situation.
In September 2013, mischief-maker Jamie Jones presented WeBuyAnyCar with a PR case study for the ages. Tweeting a picture of a toy car with a long, detailed, and entirely fake rejection letter from the company, he gained tens of thousands of likes and shares – resulting in a broadly unsympathetic portrayal of the company among the platform’s users.
This was as touchy as it was completely ridiculous: while the natural impulse may be to react with denials and threats of litigation, in this situation it would only make the company look more self-serious than it did in the first place. Democracy – its PR agency – took a different tack. WeBuyAnyCar not only came out saying it found the letter hilarious, but opened WeBuyAnyToyCar.com and pledged to donate £1000 to charity for every toy car presented to them in-store. The counter-campaign got 1700+ retweets, and several thousand likes.
In one stroke, the company clarified the veracity of the letter, confirmed its sense of humour, and came out smelling of the proverbial roses – a much better (and cheaper) tactic than getting litigious!
Concateno, a company that supplies drugs test, is the sort of client that it’s especially tricky to do good PR for. Substance abuse is a delicate issue, and any company that effectively makes a living off it should be seen to treat it with the sensitivity and seriousness that it deserves.
Chameleon PR had a good amount of work ahead of it if it was to position Concateno as an industry leader and expert commentator. The agency’s strategy was simple: let the facts speak for themselves – as long as Concateno representatives are the ones speaking the facts. It conducted a report entitled “High Society”, which found that, over 5 years (and 1.6 million workplace drugs tests), one in thirty UK employees tested positive for cannabis, cocaine, or opiates – and that the trend was moving upwards.
If there’s anything UK media enjoys, it’s a ‘moral panic’ story. Concateno’s report was featured in The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Daily Star, and (of course), The Daily Mail, and employees conducted over 15 radio interviews. It also featured on ITV’s DayBreak and the BBC World News website.
Of course, while coverage is nice, money is better – and it was helpful in this regard too. As a direct result of the campaign, Concateno reported that they received over one hundred new business leads.
Google is, as a rule, pretty hard to manipulate (we’ve covered this before). You either have to spend time finding keywords with low competition and high search volume, or you spend money ranking for keywords with high competition and high search volume. It can’t really be gamed reliably, and those few who do manage to trick it tend to get screwed in the next algorithm update anyway.
That said, while Google may be hard to break properly, you can always get one over on human beings. In particular, you can rely on them to spell stuff incorrectly. Snickers’ agency, AMV BBDO, was savvy enough to recognise this, and compiled a list of 25,000 common misspellings. With those in hand, it used Google’s Adwords platform to target ads at these search terms with simple, hilarious messages: “Yu cant spel properlie wen hungrie” and “Grab yourself a Snikkers”.
The whole thing allowed them to target tens of thousands of customers – and best of all, cost only £5000. This PR case study proves that a creative, money-spinning campaign doesn’t always have to be expensive!
Confused.com, the price comparison company, needed a campaign that would generate awareness of their car insurance offering. They also wanted to do this without spending a bunch of time and money doing so, which is a bit of a tougher ask. Still, a sufficiently determined agency isn’t about to let that get in the way.
Cake, being a sufficiently determined agency, used confused.com’s existing data to locate the most accident-prone street in the UK. They then…covered it in bubblewrap and changed the name to Accident Avenue, which they also hashtagged, because these days they #hashtag #everything.
They then proceeded to post images on various social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and more – to stimulate conversation (and likes/shares/thumbs ups/etc. etc.), and that it did: interest spilled over into the offline, sensory world, where people are made of meat instead of pixels and you can touch stuff (within reason), to the point that when Cake approached news editors at national publications, they had already heard about (and ran) the story. Alongside featuring in The Mail and The Sun, it appeared in the BBC’s famous caption competition – and reached 125 million people.
Insurance isn’t typically the type of thing that gets the blood pumping, but if this PR case study proves anything, it’s that a good dose of ingenuity can make anything fascinating.