Naturally, we have to come up with good PR ideas all the time.
Every once in a while, a great PR idea comes along by itself. And ambitious PR professionals will keep a notepad of some sort to jot down ideas for safe keeping as they occur.
In most situations, however, we have to come up with awesome PR ideas from scratch depending on the context. Coming up with these ideas is hard work and can sometimes be challenging.
To assist Doctor Spin readers in coming up with solid PR ideas, I’ve assembled this easy-to-use tool. It’s based on making lists and from those list extract PR ideas that you can use.
Lists tool to generate good PR ideas
Make a list of people or organisations that your organisation could make very, very angry.
Swedish brand Oatly sells oat milk. They took aim at the milk industry (“the milk lobby“). Since Swedes are historically very positive to milk, this stirred up lots of emotions — and enough of these emotions where favourable to Oatly for this to be a powerful PR strategy.
Everyone loves a good conflict from a safe distance and there are always someone waiting to be triggered.
Corporate executives are sometimes scared of stirring up too much conflict for comfort, so your approach should always be strategically sound and well-researched before you start the fight.
Make a list of experts and thought leaders both inside and outside of your industry.
On behalf of the Beech-Nut food company, “The Father of Spin” Edward Bernays hired a well-know New York physician to do a survey amongst other physician to see what was most healthy — a light or a heavy breakfast. The doctors confirmed that a heavy breakfast was better.
After some publicity work and targeted lobbying, eggs, ham, and bacon became the quintessential American breakfasts and hotels all over the worlds started serving eggs, ham, and bacon for breakfast. In less than six months, Beech-Nut’s sales boomed.
Piggybacking on the authority of others is one of the more classic PR tactics that should always be used responsibly and with caution.
Make a list of stupid majorities in your industry.
Many great PR successes are based on targeting a stupid majority. Every now and then there’s a shift in society where old majorities are replaced by new majorities. These new majorities, of course, started out as minorities.
Majorities who are about to transform into old majorities are what I call “stupid majorities”. “Smart minorities” are those minorities who are soon about to become the new majorities.
Tesla Motors took on a stupid majority (“electric cars can’t compete with fossil-fuelled cars”), Facebook took on a stupid majority (“a media company that doesn’t produce any media is not really a threat”), Red Bull took on a stupid majority (“extreme sports are only for reckless adrenaline junkies and not to be considered real sports”), AirBnB took on a stupid majority (“you can’t build a successful hotel company without having any hotels”), Apple took on a stupid majority (“no-one really cares about what the aesthetics of technology”) — and the list just goes on.
As an added bonus, smart minority fans will be disproportionately more engaged and supportive due to the conversion theory.
So, what are the stupid majorities today in your industry? For more examples, see Taking on a stupid majority — the ultimate underdog PR strategy and my TEDx talk, A recipe for PR success.
Make a list of any criticism or complaints that your organisation might have about your competitors.
If you ask people working for an organisation what they think are wrong (or at least less good) with their competitors, lots of people typically have lots of informative suggestions.
Maybe they treat their employees like crap? Maybe their executives are lining their pockets at the expense of their customers and employees? Maybe their quality of services or products are way below your standards? Maybe they’re over-charging? Maybe they’re struggling financially? Maybe they have unethical practices?
Get in on any disturbing issues concerning your competitors. As some of them might be true, there’s typically great PR ideas lurking around these areas.
Make a list of influencers and speculate on how each of them would spend 10,000 EUR from your budget if they could spend it any way they wanted with no constraints.
This exercise isn’t about giving influencers a 10,000 EUR check to spend as they see fit. The idea is rather to put yourself inside the mind of relevant influencers and think about what how they would promote your brand — after all, they know their audiences better than anyone.
Most of these ideas will be outlandish for sure, but some could be starting points for really good PR ideas. After all, the best way to come up with one good PR idea is to come up with one hundred of bad PR ideas first.
For inspiration, I suggest to check out famous vlogger Case Neistat’s video “Make It Count” that he made on behalf of Nike:
Make a list of employees and ask them how each of them would spend 10,000 EUR from your budget if they if they could spend it any way they wanted with no constraints.
If you ask your employees this question, you typically get a bunch of very surprising answers. Of course, some will immediately suggest giving out the money as bonuses — but that in itself might not be a terrible PR idea at all.
I’ve read a few of these types of ideas and, oh boy.
How about installing a swimming pool on the roof? How about inviting a famous band or throwing an epic out-of-proportion party? How about paying for everyone’s gym membership fees for a whole year? What about investing the money in nearby daycare facility? how about building more parking spots or buying free-to-use electric kickbikes? What about a donation to suicide prevention to commemorate a colleague’s brother? What about building a a row of quiet rooms where employees can meditate and catch their breaths?
Ideas like these are often somewhat all over the place, but that’s what makes them perfect for finding great PR ideas!
Make a list of trade journalists and email them asking them what they’re most interested in right now.
In my experience, journalists are often quite okay with organisations asking them for advise based on their expertise. If you can get some relevant journalists to disclose what they’re extra interested in right now, their general input is typically fodder for very solid PR ideas.
See also How to write a PR pitch.
Make a list of survey questions.
A client launching a job market website did a survey asking job seekers if they had ever lied on their resumé. It culminated in a national headlines and thousands of registrations.
“Liars — 4 out 5 job seekers lie on their resumé.”
Another client was struggling to get their clients to sign service agreements on their backup power solutions. So, we surveyed hospitals about their service agreements. It culminated in national headlines and all hospitals signing up.
“Death traps — 7 out of 8 hospitals haven’t serviced their backup power in case of a blackout.”
Journalists are almost always open to interesting new survey results. Make a list of questions and dare to be creative and pointy.
Make a list of salespeople on staff and ask each of them to come up with a headline about your brand that they would love to see.
Salespeople go into meetings carrying the weight of their entire organisation on their backs. If the organisation has a great reputation and does well, their jobs becomes a whole lot easier.
Salespeople often come up with rather straightforward headline ideas. Their ideal headlines are often straight up praise for the organisation. But this input is important; salespeople often knows exactly what the organisation rightfully should be praised for.
These types of lists are therefore highly relevant for classic business press pitches; new clients, new hires, new awards, new testimonials, new milestones, new contracts, new innovations, new launches etc.
Make a list of potential annual events.
Annual events is becoming a staple of the PR industry.
The trend is that the organisation does something every year that gathers momentum and slowly grows. Think of how Apple can do yearly launch events without even telling anyone beforehand what they’re going to launch.
Please note that it doesn’t have to be physical events, either. It can also be the launch of a yearly report, for example.
The PR strategy is to build a brand narrative over time. This is why many brands are using these events to reinforce their brand story and put this story into a wider context. This is called corporational determinism.
Make a list of the the most prominent topics of gossip in your industry.
In every professional industry, there’s gossip flying around both left and right. Typical for gossip is that it’s often unsubstantiated, but still so interesting that people can’t stop themselves from talking about it.
Making a list of gossip topics might feel a bit unprofessional (“dirty”), but real people’s guilty interests should never be underestimated.
Why are people so interested in these topics? Is there any truth to any of them or are they just rumours? Are there, in fact, quite serious underpinnings to some of these topics that actually deserves an open discussion or debate?
Make a list of the most used keyword searches used by people who land on your website.
Providing education for free is perhaps one of the most underestimated PR tactics out there. People go online by the millions to learn about highly specific matters — and sometimes these matters are aligning with the type of expertise that you already have in-house.
Keyword research is an excellent approach to getting real data on what people are looking to learn more about. And this information should help you develop highly relevant PR ideas.
Make a list of the top visited pages on your website.
List the most visited pages on your organisation’s website and look for something that sticks out, something that might be surprising to you.
“Why on Earth are our website visitors so darn obsessed with one of our employees old blog posts? What is so interesting about that particular one?”
On your website’s thank-you-page, create a form asking new subscribers about their biggest challenge right now.
Your customers pain-points make for excellent PR ideas.
Make a list of things that everyone in the industry knows but no-one talks about.
“The unspoken truths” are typically powerful PR concepts.
People love to hear others say what they already know to be true, but no-one dares to talk about it. This is basically what stand-up comedians do all the time.
Some of these truths may be uncomfortable also to the organisation itself, so make sure to create a safe brainstorming environment.