As far as events go, jumping from a helium balloon at the edge of space and breaking the sound barrier in the process was bound to stand out. However, Felix Baumgartner’s recent world-record breaking skydive wasn’t just a huge PR success just because of the scale and death-defying nature of the stunt (although this admittedly had a role to play). More significant was the way sponsor Red Bull deftly handled this project, demonstrating skills which apply to all aspects of good PR.
While on a grander scale, the ‘Stratos project’ actually fitted in well with the general message of Red Bull’s PR. The brand has long sought to ally itself with risk-taking and daredevil action, sponsoring a multitude of extreme sports in a bid to tie the energy drink to high-energy sports. Had a brand less well-known for its relationship with extreme stunts promoted the Stratos jump, it would have perhaps seemed gratuitous and too obviously geared towards gaining publicity. This is perhaps the first lesson to take away – credible PR must be consistent and in-line with the brand if it is to reinforce rather re-invent previous activities. If an idea is creative but doesn’t mesh well with the image created around a client, then it probably needs re-thinking.
Build the hype
Red Bull guaranteed itself coverage before the actual event even took place. A CGI mock-up of the jump was circulated to press and broadcasters to spark initial interest and build anticipation. Two real-life test jumps were also carried out, followed by a jump that was aborted due to high winds. There has been some debate as to whether this really was a genuine attempt thwarted by the weather or a calculated way of drumming up further interest, but either way it created more interest as people understood more about how risky the endeavour was.
Steadily building up media interest before a launch can lead to greater coverage, but only if the launch is genuinely newsworthy. In this example, an aborted jump due to dangerous weather was far more likely to be covered than simply saying: “This is going to be amazing!”
Tapping into Social Media
The twitter account set up for the stunt pumped out a series of instagram shots from test flights, various preparations and inspirational quotes in the weeks leading up to the jump, underlining the importance of pre-promotion. And this resulted in a staggering 3.1 million tweets sent relating to the event.
A live video feed for an event such as this was always going to be successful, and putting it on YouTube meant it was instantly accessible to millions. In this case it attracted around 8 million views, which were the highest ever viewing figures in YouTube’s history (although ghoulishly, a high proportion switched off when his parachute opened).
The lesson? Don’t forget the impact of broadcast media – highly visual events deserve appropriate coverage, and engaging with social media can amplify the message massively.
While the temptation to plaster the Red Bull logo just about everywhere must have been tempting, the branding used for the event was surprisingly subtle.
The same should go for any piece of PR – don’t detract from the point of the message by pushing the brand too hard. It can be tempting but it’s more likely to turn journalists off and distract from the news or even result in no coverage.
Photo: snapshot taken from footage of the jump posted on Youtube.