You can’t spell the word prank without PR. Some of the most high-profile hijinks in recent history involved a mix of paid, owned, and earned media. But before blindly executing an April Fool’s joke, you should ask yourself if misleading key constituencies could do more harm than good. Major news outlets have warned press release wire services not to run April Fool’s stories- that’s because those releases automatically post to news websites and appear on equity trading terminals used by investment decision makers. Not everyone reading those releases will understand that the content is false.
Tom Becktold, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Business Wire, has seen his share of April Fool’s campaigns take a negative turn. He advises companies to make it completely clear that the prank is not factual. “Because if a reporter covers it as real and then has to run a retraction, it damages your reputation the next time you’re going to go out and go to that reporter for a legitimate story that you may have,” he warns.
As an example of an April Fool’s joke gone wrong, Becktold relates the story of a software company that sent an email to all of their clients stating that all users must read the manual, or they will be banned from customer service. The email included the acronym, “RTFM,” which translates to “Read the F!@#$ Manual.” Clients did not perceive this to be a joke, and it resulted in a lot of back peddling on the part of the software company.
“You have to be very careful. What you see as funny and what a group in your company may see as funny – your clients or reporters may not,” Becktold warns.
April Fool’s hoaxes can be effective brand builders, it’s the role of the PR professional to weigh the publicity against any possible damage to relationships with those who don’t get the joke. Butterfinger’s crop circle QR code is a great example of a clever, distinct prank that helped to move the brand forward without risking their reputation.
“April Fool’s can be a lot of fun, but from a marketing or public relations perspective, I think, make sure you stay grounded in what you do best, do research first, make sure that what you think is funny is something that your market is also going to think is funny, and then if all that aligns with your brand efforts then go for it. Otherwise, pull back and try something different.” Sage advice from the experienced Business Wire VP.
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You Can’t Spell Prank Without PR