Tough times for experiential PR as Cunning Stunts and Making Waves close

Experiential comms is suffering in the downturn because clients do not see it as a crucial part of their marketing strategy, according to the founder of recently defunct agency Cunning Stunts.

Pretty Green: experiential stunt with Beyoncé dancers
Pretty Green: experiential stunt with Beyoncé dancers

Experiential outfits Cunning Stunts and Making Waves Communications have both shut up shop in the past fortnight.

Cunning Stunts founder Anna Carloss said the agency folded because a ‘massive’ client had pulled budgets at the end of last year and the agency had failed to recover.

She told PRWeek: ‘Clients are tending to go to digital or TV where they feel more comfortable with their money. Stunts are seen as a want to do, not a need to do and that attitude is impacting on the experiential market.’

Meanwhile, Making Waves was hit by major client PlayStation reducing budgets across the board because of the current economic climate.

Thomas Scott, a former employee at Making Waves Communications who is setting up his own experiential age­ncy, said: ‘Because of the cre­dit crunch, experiential is one of the first marketing budgets to be cut. Experiential is still a good way of reaching your market, but agencies have to be proving ROI.’

Experiential comms targets customers through interactive experiences including stunts and events. For example, agency Pretty Green rec­ently arranged 100 Beyoncé Knowles lookalikes to dance in Piccadilly Circus to promote chewing gum brand Trident giving away tickets to her sold-out tour.

However, suggestion that clients were less interested in experiential than was previously the case was strongly rejected by some PROs.

Mischief PR MD Mitchell Kaye said: ‘I couldn’t agree less. We have never done more experiential work than in the past few months and we see no trend of clients moving away from that.’

However, he warned stunts and experiential work had to be part of a wider comms strategy to be successful. ‘Where experiential sits in isolation it could struggle,’ he said.

In terms of clients, Easyjet’s UK comms manager Andrew McConnell told PRWeek the airline rem­ained committed to its high profile stunts. And Sony Computer Entertainment head of PR UK David Wilson said: ‘We are probably spending more on experiential than we did last year.’


How I see it

Jim Hawker
Co-founder, Threepipe

It doesn’t surprise me that stunt and event-led agencies are feeling the pinch. With budgets retracting, creating PR stunts becomes a riskier business as they can be expensive and guarantee no exposure. Budget holders are playing it safe and want more guarantees, which stunts cannot deliver.

Mark Stringer
MD, Pretty Green

Experiential is a great way to build an emotional connection with a brand, but direct sales and a high return on investment are difficult to achieve. It can be used  effectively as part of the marketing mix, but usually
it requires strong amplification – for example, PR – to make it work.

1991 Year Making Waves Comms was founded

1997 Year Cunning Stunts was founded

1999 Year Cunning Stunts put Gail Porter image on Parliament

100 Number of ‘Beyoncés’ who performed at Trident stunt

13k Number of Beyoncé tickets Trident gave away


The agencies that failed

Cunning Stunts

Cunning Stunts was founded in 1997 by Anna Carloss and John Carver. It shot to fame in 1999 when it projected an image of Gail Porter on to the Houses of Parliament for Emap’s FHM magazine.

The company closed and made 40 per cent of its staff redundant this month because the bank would not extend its overdraft. The remaining 60 per cent were transferred to sister agency Cunning Communications.

There are eight employees working for Cunning Communications in London, some of whom are on temporary contracts.
Carloss and Carver are planning to expand the company into EMEA.

Making Waves

Youth specialist agency Making Waves Communications closed its doors earlier this month after almost 20 years trading.
The 20-strong experiential specialist was set up in 1991 by MD and founder Matt Williams. The agency had handled work for clients including shoe brand Kickers and drinks brand Malibu. Another major client was PlayStation, for which it handled some experiential activity.

In January the agency landed an account with following a competitive pitch (PRWeek, 28 January). The agency had been selected to target young people in the UK and Australia.

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