Murray mania, ambush marketing and digital PR: how to hijack major events

TennisI'm not a huge tennis fan but I watched Andy Murray win it for Britain, Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper win at looking suave...ish, and Alex Salmond win at distracting attention with some questionable and highly awkward Saltire waving. It was a great day: the sun brought crowds to SW19 and punters flocked to outdoor big-screen showings around the capital, while a record-breaking audience of over 17 million watched the match at home or at the pub. It had the makings of a major public event. What sealed the deal for me, though, wasn't the mix of Pimm's-fuelled patriotism and BBC montages; it was what happened afterwards as various companies and brands tried their best to bask in the reflected glory of the great event. It was a lesson in opportunism and exposure-boosting. Whether you're a consumer public relations agency or looking for inspiration for great B2B digital marketing and PR campaigns, it pays to pay attention before, during and after major events like these.

Ambush marketing

Ambush marketing, as it's sometimes called, is a funny business. It's a cheap and often cheeky way for brands with no sponsorship or official event partnership to nail their colours to the mast. It's designed to look like lightning-fast reactive brand management - and sometimes it is - but most of the time it's the result of long and careful planning. Whatever the case, when a stunt is executed well, the brand doing the hijacking can win big thanks to the extra exposure afforded by the association with this or that cultural phenomenon. Have-a-go gambling website Paddy Power did this with style when it sponsored the "largest athletics event in London this year", and Specsavers showed off its quick reflexes with its North/South Korean flag advert that piggy-backed on a LOGOC cock-up during the Olympics.

Standing on the shoulders of...Andy

This week, the power of Murray mania has become apparent in the many examples of ambush marketing we've seen in the days since his historic victory. It took just seconds for craft beer punks BrewDog to share an image of a special batch of its 77 Lager to mark the long wait since Fred Perry lifted the trophy, the last British man to do so. Morrisons were in on the action, too. A Wimbledon store was renamed Murrisons in the run-up to the main event, and underwent a second name change when it was safe to emblazon its front with a crowd-pleasing Murriwins.

Other perpetrators include radio station 102.5 Clyde 1, which renamed itself Murray Won for a day, and even David Cameron can't resist getting Andy over for tea, taunting him with the threat of a knighthood on telly, and generally gobbling up press opportunities. There's potential to reach huge audiences through a variety of media - especially social networks, which see spikes during big-ticket events like the Wimbledon final, and are awash with widely shared content in the hours and days following them.

Doing it digital

Ambush marketing is a growing trend but it's nothing new. There will always be individuals and companies riding on the coattails of whomever or whatever is hot at any given time. The only things that change are the ways in which this is done and the growing potential for viral exposure, thanks largely to developments in digital media. The principles that govern the above cases of ambush marketing also apply to public relations and especially to digital PR campaigns. And you don't need to change your company name or wave a flag behind the PM like a twat. It can be as simple as a well-timed letter to the editor of a newspaper in which a company spokesperson outlines an opinion or responds to coverage of an issue. It can be a piece of expert comment, pre-written, approved and ready for tweaking and pitching when an anticipated news story hits the media. Then social media channels can be used to maximise reach.

The keys to hijacking a nascent media phenomenon are planning, creativity, readiness and speed. For a helping hand, check out our selection of PR tactics that, among other things, will help you harness the power of big events, news stories and anything else that your digital PR campaign can ambush for a bit of a coverage boost.

Keep it in mind the next time you're planning a digital PR campaign.