Coming up with great PR ideas is a tough job.
Every once in a while, a great PR idea comes along by itself. (Ambitious PR rockstars will keep a notepad close by to jot down ideas as they occur.)
However, in most situations, we have to come up with awesome PR ideas from scratch—and on the spot. Coming up with inspired PR ideas is hard work and can sometimes be challenging.
To assist you in coming up with better PR ideas, I’ve assembled this easy-to-use tool. I’ve based this method on making lists and extracting PR ideas that you can use from them.
A Tool to Generate Great PR Ideas
Make a list of people or organisations that your organisation could make very angry.
Swedish brand Oatly sells oat milk. They aimed 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 were favourable to Oatly for this to be a powerful PR strategy.
Everyone loves a good conflict from a safe distance, and there is 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 your industry.
On behalf of the Beech-Nut food company, “The Father of Spin”, Edward Bernays hired a well-known New York physician to survey other physicians to see what was most healthy—a light or a heavy breakfast. The doctors confirmed that a hearty breakfast was better.
After some publicity and targeted lobbying, eggs, ham, and bacon became the quintessential American breakfasts, and hotels worldwide 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 we should always use responsibly and with caution.
Make a list of stupid majorities in your industry.
Many great PR successes come from targeting a stupid majority. Now and then, there’s a shift in society where new majorities replace old majorities. These new majorities, of course, started 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 majority.
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 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 cares about the aesthetics of technology”)—and the list goes on.
As a 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 your organisation might have about your competitors.
If you ask people working for an organisation what they think is wrong (or at least less good) with their competitors, they typically have lots of informative suggestions.
Perhaps they treat their employees badly? Perhaps their executives are lining their pockets? Perhaps their quality of services or products are poor? Perhaps they’re overcharging? Perhaps they’re struggling financially? Perhaps they have unethical practices?
Get in on any disturbing issues concerning your competitors. As some of them might be true, there are great PR ideas lurking around these murky waters.
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 list isn’t about giving influencers a 10,000 EUR check to spend as they see fit. The idea is instead to put yourself inside the mind of influencers and imagine how they would promote your brand. After all, they know their audiences better than anyone.
Most of these ideas will be outlandish, but some could be starting points for great PR ideas. The best way to develop one good PR idea is to come up with one hundred bad PR ideas first.
For inspiration, I suggest checking 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 could spend it any way they wanted with no constraints.
If you ask your employees how they would spend a large budget, you typically get surprising answers. I’ve read many 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 a nearby daycare facility? How about building more parking spots or buying free-to-use electric kick bikes? What about a donation to suicide prevention to commemorate a colleague’s brother? What about making a row of quiet rooms where employees can meditate and catch their breaths?
Of course, some will suggest giving out the money as bonuses—which in itself might not be a terrible PR idea at all.
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.
Journalists are often okay with organisations asking them for advice based on their expertise. If you can get relevant journalists to disclose what they’re extra interested in right now, their input is valuable fodder for great 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 national headlines and thousands of registrations.
“Liars — 4 out 5 job seekers lie on their resumé.”
Another client struggled 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.
“Deathtraps — 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 an excellent reputation and does well, their jobs become much more manageable.
Salespeople often come up with relatively straightforward headline ideas. Their ideal headlines are often straight-up praise for the organisation. But this input is essential; salespeople often know precisely why their organisation deserves credit.
These lists are highly relevant for classic business press pitches; new clients, new hires, new awards, new testimonials, new milestones, new contracts, innovations, new launches etc.
Make a list of potential annual events.
Annual events are becoming a staple of the PR industry.
The trend is that the organisation does something every year that gathers momentum and slowly grows. Please think of how Apple can do yearly launch events without telling anyone beforehand what they’re going to launch.
Please note that it doesn’t have to be physical events, either. It can be the launch of a yearly report, for example.
The PR strategy is to build a brand narrative over time. More and more brands are using these events to reinforce their brand story and put it into a broader context; this is called corporational determinism.
Make a list of the most prominent topics of gossip in your industry.
There’s gossip flying around in every professional industry. Typical gossip is 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 we should never underestimate the allure of guilty interests.
Why are people so interested in these topics? Is there any truth to any of them or, are they rumours? Are there, in fact, quite severe underpinnings to some of these topics that deserves an open 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 to learn about particular matters—and sometimes, these matters align with existing in-house expertise.
Keyword research is an excellent approach to getting accurate data on pain points. 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 employee’s old blog posts? What is so interesting about that particular one?”
On your website’s thank-you page, please create a form asking new subscribers about their biggest challenge right now.
Your customers’ pain points make for great 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 accurate, but no one dares to express it; this is basically what most stand-up comedians talk about for laughs.
Some of these truths may be uncomfortable, so make sure to create a safe brainstorming environment.
“Sail something down the Thames.”
No, I’m joking. Don’t do that, please.