PR, Films and Fantasies

7 PR Campaigns That Changed The World

Posted on: January 2, 2011

Many of us PR students dream big when considering our future careers. We will change perceptions, we will help people, we will praise for freedom of speech! I know it’s all very un-realistic, but until then, here are some brilliant PR efforts that changed history (via

7. Issuing the World’s First Press Release


Image via Wikipedia


Ivy Lee is considered one of the founders of modern public relations and was the leading competitor of Edward Bernays (below) in the emergent field of PR at the start of the 20th century . In 1906, a railroad accident in New Jersey – the Atlantic City train wreck – saw an electric train derailed and plough off a bridge, drowning 53 people. To deal with the situation, Lee put out what is widely regarded as the first ever press release, persuading operating company, the Pennsylvania Railroad, to disclose the facts of the case directly to reporters – before they could hear them from other sources. At the accident scene, a statement was presented to waiting reporters, and it was Lee’s coup that the New York Times printed it verbatim. It was a landmark in modern crisis communications – and a landmark in PR.


6. Convincing the American People to Eat Bacon and Eggs


Image via Wikimedia


The 1920s’ campaign to convince the public that bacon and eggs was the bona fide all-American breakfast was the brainchild of ‘father of public relations’ Edward Bernays. Influenced by the ideas of his uncle Sigmund Freud, Bernays pioneered the technique of using authority figures to support his clients’ causes. In this case, the opinion formers were physicians. The author of the milestone PR text Crystallizing Public Opinion conducted a survey among doctors and relayed the results – advocating hearty, protein-rich breakfasts – to thousands more physicians. The public, too, were swayed by the campaign, and as folks turned on their frying pans, ‘bacon and eggs’ were married forevermore in the collective consciousness. Bernays truly brought home the bacon, too, when sales went through the roof.


5. Overthrowing the Government of Guatemala



Image via Wikipedia


In an example of PR-cum-propaganda, Edward Bernays allegedly masterminded the toppling of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in 1954. Working for US-based corporation United Fruits Company – who felt threatened by Arbenz’s land reform proposals – Bernays spread material through the leading US media that marked Guzman as a communist. Bernays’ manipulation of public opinion thus took on a new form – ‘America’s No. 1 Publicist’ using his influence to leverage political forces and maintain United Fruits’ dominance over the government of Guatemala as the country’s largest landowner. Furthering as it did the exploitation of cheap fruit production labour in the interests of US markets, this campaign is less to be lauded for its intentions or methods than for its sheer clout. Viva la Revolución?


4. Beatles Playing a Concert on a Rooftop



Image via Wikimedia


U2 may have pulled a similar stunt in 2009, but the Beatles did it first, playing one of the most unforgettable gigs of their career on a rooftop. The London office of Apple Records set the stage for the Fab Four’s unannounced 1969 performance – all the more legendary because it was their last in public. Passersby were awestruck as John, George, Paul and Ringo rocked classics like “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Get Back” to rapturous applause before the police put a stop to proceedings. But though the show was over, it was immortalised in the 1970 film Let It Be, becoming almost as indelibly imprinted in the public consciousness as the band itself. More than just a photo opportunity, this was the swansong of one of the greatest groups in history – and it was orchestrated by clever PR.


3. Playing Tennis on the Burj Al Arab



Image via Youtube


It’s not only musicians who get to enjoy the thrill of skilfully created pieces of PR; sportsmen do too. Who can forget first seeing Andre Agassi and Roger Federer step out to play on the helipad of Dubai’s Burj Al Arab hotel, 321 metres (1,053 feet) up in the air? In an event staged ahead of the Dubai Open in 2005, the two superstars indulged in a knock-about on the dramatically positioned, specially laid court, safe in the knowledge that there was a safety net around the perimeter. The then tallest hotel on earth has since been overshadowed by the tallest building on earth, the Burj Dubai, but at the time this was a mind-blowing spectacle for those who witnessed it that helped take both tennis and Dubai – with the Burj Al Arab its symbol – to new heights in the public eye.


2. Homer Simpson Appears Opposite the Cerne Abbas Giant



Image: Tim Bunce


When a massive likeness of Homer Simpson materialised on a Dorset hillside facing the iconic chalk figure of the Cerne Abbas Giant, local neopagans were up in arms about the audacious publicity stunt. The rest of the world, however, sat up, took notice, and smiled. A promotion to mark the opening of 2007’s The Simpsons Movie, Homer was depicted wearing nothing but underpants and wielding a doughnut, in gentle mockery of his more ancient – and ruder – opposite number, a famous symbol of fertility. The giant Homer was outlined in water-based biodegradable paint that would wash away when it rained, so while the pagans exclaimed “D’oh!” and promised to invoke rain magic, no one, not even a hardcore environmentalist, could raise much of an objection to the stunt, ensuring bad publicity was avoided.


1. The Best Job in the World



Image: kevgibbo


Dubbed ‘the world’s greatest PR stunt’, Tourism Queensland’s Best Job in the World campaign of 2009 was a masterclass in the power of public relations to spread an upbeat story far and wide. Prompted by global classified ads seeking a caretaker for Australian paradise Hamilton Island, tens of thousands of applicants uploaded videos explaining why they should get the post. The next hook was a reality TV-style whittling-down of the candidates via social media, which heightened the buzz triggered by tapping into young people’s wanderlust. Heaps of priceless free publicity was generated, as myriad media groups worldwide covered the story, largely ignoring the fact that it was a marketing ploy. A 34-year-old ostrich-rider from England won the competition, but this was a triumph for PR – and how to execute it with aplomb.



2 Responses to "7 PR Campaigns That Changed The World"

7 PR Campaigns That Changed The World « The way I see it……

Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

It is puzzling that all the great PR stunts are by the English speaking people giving the impression that non English speaking are mere victims of PR campaigns an not creative at all.

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