Too fool or not to fool; that is the question for PRs

In an effort to appear intelligent and well-informed I normally try to jolt my brain into gear each morning with a quick glance at the Economist Espresso app. Always well written, it's nevertheless normally quite a dry read.

If you're going for laughs, strike the right tone, says Gavin Devine
If you're going for laughs, strike the right tone, says Gavin Devine
So as I opened it up yesterday I was particularly surprised to learn that Petro Poroshenko had suggested to Vladimir Putin that they should resolve their differences over eastern Ukraine via one-on-one unarmed combat…

Eventually the penny dropped.  

This was one of those hilarious April Fool’s stories, part of what is now a global one-day funfest.  
As such it is irresistible to PR folk: what better opportunity to be noticed, and to be associated with a sense of fun and irreverence?  

But in practice delivering a great April Fool’s story is far from easy; and far too many communicators get it wrong on 1 April.

For starters, the competition is fierce.  

This year saw some cracking – and extremely elaborate – examples of the genre.  

Google turned Google Maps into a game of Pacman .  

And CNN flagged up a press release from scientists at CERN, reporting that their latest experiment had uncovered The Force.
With all this going on, saying something different and noticeable can be difficult.

Standing out is a problem; standing out for the wrong reasons is worse.

Corporate brands that try to be amusing and fall short risk a pasting on social media, and may well end up forever listed on a compilation of failed gags.
If it was your idea to go for an April Fool’s gag your failure may be hard to explain to a client. 

Serious creativity is vital, and following through with conviction is essential.

But no matter how good your idea you also have to get the right tone.
A clue: it’s meant to be ‘light-hearted’.  

On that score The Guardian slightly missed the point with its rather solemn joke about Jeremy Clarkson joining the paper’s campaign for divestment from companies associated with fossil fuels.
That said, someone outdid themselves in composing this ‘Clarkson’ quote: "There comes a time when a man’s got to ask himself what he really stands for. And for me, that’s sustainable energy, traffic calming and an end to xenophobia and prejudice."

So it’s a minefield.  Or maybe a tightrope.  

But if you get it right it can yield amazing results.  

Our client SunLife had a very enjoyable day yesterday on the back of its announcement of a new ‘beard insurance’ product aimed at Britain’s hipsters.  

The secret of this success?  

A great idea, backed by strong collateral and accompanying video content, backed up with lots of old-fashioned PR work; pitching this idea a week ago, before journalists got sick of the sight of April Fool ideas, and promoting it hard on social media, which in turn gave the story legs on Twitter and Facebook all day.

The lesson in all of this is obvious: in the end April Fool’s Day is like any other day.  

And that means that for PRs, a genuinely creative idea, powerful content and flawless execution will always win.

Gavin Devine is chief executive of MHP Communications

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