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What makes some brands so explosively exciting? And how can you replicate this 'explosiveness' for your business?

by JERRY SILVER // Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Digital PR specialist and CEO at Spin Factory

Some brands are just explosive.

  • What makes these brands so exciting?
  • Can you replicate their formula for your business?

As a professional spin doctor, I often get contacted by brands who wants to make a huge splash; they might fancy the idea of inbound communications, but building a community one person at the time takes too long, they argue.

They don’t have the luxury of time and can’t just focus on long-term relationships in their marketing. They must go big — or go home.

In short, they need some PR dynamite. So what’s the recipe for it?

How I Discovered My PR Dynamite

Some years ago, I was part of a small group of online influencers who argued that the internet was important and that it would be bad business to ignore this fact for too long. As the establishment loudly and publicly disqualified our claims, it only made our subculture stronger — and bigger.

When people noticed that I wouldn’t back down, they instead started asking questions about how a digital-first media landscape would impact their businesses. When I provided them with answers, people began to listen.

And they wanted to hear more. And more. And more. Boom!

Being part of this minority group made me feel special. It’s a fundamental paradox of human behavior: We all want to be unique snowflakes — together.

When The Minority Becomes The Majority

Today, I still help companies to make better use of digital communication. And there’s almost no-one around who thinks that the importance of digital is overrated. In this case, the former minority became the new majority.

And that’s great. We won! Many of us now get to work with digital platforms and emerging technologies in a growing industry that is widely accepted and respected. Good times.

However, my PR dynamite is now mostly gone. It disappeared ever so gradually as my minority voice shifted into a comfortable majority membership.

So how do you know if you have it or not?

How To Test Your PR Dynamite Level

Imagine asking 100 people if they agree with you. If a majority of them says “no” — then that’s a sure sign that you’re onto something. In the name of pseudo-science, let’s put my current level of PR explosiveness to the test:

If I were to ask 100 CMOs if they think that digital communication is important for business, then maybe three of them would say “NO”? That could be a reasonable assumption.

With 3 people out of 100 disagreeing, my personal brand’s PR dynamite level is down to 3%.

Ouch, right?

Now, the trick here is, of course, to pick a fight with a powerful majority that deserves to be brought to its knees:

If you pick a fight with gas car lovers, siding with the minority of people who thinks that electric cars can (and soon will!) outperform gas cars, well, then that’s pretty awesome.

If you pick a fight with all Mexicans, siding with the minority of people who thinks that a massive wall between the US and Mexico sounds like a good idea, well, then that’s pretty dangerous.

If you want to make headlines and also make the world a better place, you should be mindful in choosing who to fight.

How To Find A Majority Worth Fighting

Think of Red Bull. There was a time when “action sports” weren’t seen as real sports at all. In fact, we still don’t see skateboarders, surfers, and climbers compete in the Olympics1. Today, however, it’s safe to say that Red Bull has had a hand in establishing legitimacy for several of these sports.

Could it be that simple?

Find a minority subculture of potential consumers where a powerful majority is either opposing them, ridiculing them, or at least, ignoring them.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, is another great example: He isn’t the most media-savvy spokesperson out there, but he’s always going against what the majority thinks can be done. His endeavors in science and business make for great headlines before, during, and after.

In the words of Mark Twain:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

Think about it:

With so many subcultures out there, bravely fighting dominant majorities, all a brand has to do is to find a relevant minority.

Your Enemy Is Your Ticket To Excitement

Many brands complain that their CSR initiatives aren’t getting any recognition or media attention. So, let’s have them take the PR dynamite test:

Out of a 100 people, how many would dislike the idea of drilling wells and building schools in impoverished parts of the world? How many would hate the idea of sustainable business initiatives?2

PR dynamite level: 0%

It’s like telling a story about a hero (the minority) without a powerful foe (the majority):

Imagine if JRR Tolkien had written another story about Bilbo, in which he, after having defeated the dragon, proclaims that his riches will be used to rebuild Middle Earth — and so this story starts. Everywhere Bilbo travels on his journey, people applaud his initiative and the inhabitants graciously accepts his valuable aid. After spending all of his fortunes, Bilbo returns home to his beloved Shire, delighted.

The end.

We could all agree that Bilbo did some great things in this story, but the story in itself … isn’t great.

You want people to be excited about your story? Then where’s your “Sauron”?

Great stories are driven by real struggles, real opposition. Being risk-averse is common sense in the world of business, but it’s not a recipe for winning hearts and minds.

When Do We Need PR Dynamite?

My personal marketing strategy has for years and years revolved around the idea of sharing is caring:

I believe that the more you give to the world, the more the world will give back to you. If I’m sharing actionable insights and helping existing clients, this will award me with enough opportunities to sustain my freelance business.

It’s an inbound strategy for sure, a resource-efficient and long-term relationship building strategy. Instead of chasing massive impacts, I try to make the most of all incoming signals and build my reputation, one small step at the time.

So, I get by with just 3% PR dynamite. I have a decent percentage of PR glue3, meaning that I attract enough business interest by “doing good shit”4 for my existing friends, readers, and clients.

Having helped lots of organizations to tap into the power of inbound marketing, I swear by its effectiveness in generating business value. Focusing on your core audience is subtle and sophisticated — elegant, even.

Still, if I would say one bad thing about inbound strategies in general, then it would be this:

They can be slow.

A Little Gunpowder Might Do The Trick

At some point, most brands need some PR dynamite — on top of their sophisticated day-to-day communication activities. And you can get by with just a dash of gunpowder, too.

Here are a few examples from my career:

Example 1: Early in my blogging days, a majority of PR professionals thought that PR people wouldn’t be interested in sharing their expertise for free, with competitors, for everyone to see. So I started an online community for exactly that, PR of Sweden5.

Example 2: A majority of PR- and marketing people thinks that spin sucks6. Taking on the alias Doctor Spin, then, is very much a minority move.

Example 3: For a short period, I sided with the Swedish Pirate Party and offered them my services pro bono. It’s safe to say that we managed to make some serious noise in 2008-2009, much thanks to the active resistance from the political establishment.

Example 4: A majority of all PR- and marketing professionals spends most of their budget on getting reach, so I sided with the minority who thinks that we should allocate budgets to existing publics, a stance which has made me reasonably popular with the inbound community.

Now, your fight doesn’t have to relate to your service and products, either:

I mean, action sports and energy drinks? Carbonated artificial soft drinks aren’t exactly what you need to put in your body before an athletic performance. But it still works.

The Explosive Power Of Subcultures

To create a perfect storm, you must find a balance between PR dynamite and PR glue. In the long-term, stickiness trumps explosiveness.

But you can have both.

The trick is to make sure that there is real and powerful majority for your brand to take on togehter with a smaller subculture of likeminded people.

Just make sure the fight is worth winning.

Notes:

  1. Skateboarding, surfing, and rock climbing have been suggested for inclusion at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
  2. I’m not suggesting we should abandon the idea of CSR; I’m suggesting that we must frame such initiatives differently.
  3. In general, glue is much cheaper and easier to come by than dynamite. And less of a mess. Analogy level = 100%
  4. “Be honest and do good shit” is the awesome one-sentence marketing strategy of Joakim Jardenberg. And I love the fact that he once wrote an article (in Swedish!) arguing that we should go for English as our first language. Boom!
  5. PR of Sweden is very much asleep these days. I guess its PR dynamite level is below 5% at this point. But who knows? I might still find a way to bring it back to life.
  6. Speaking of, make sure to check out spinsucks.com, the awesome PR blog by Gini Dietrich and her team.

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Behind the keyboard:

Jerry Silver is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.

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