Commentary

Experiential Marketing For PR: Can You Survive The Gauntlet?

LG Electronics said in a press release the other day that it plans to open a "water park" shaped like one of its dishwashers on the streets of New York. Said to be two and a half times bigger than a tennis court, it "will soak festival goers from every angle, mimicking the dishwashers' advanced four spray arm technology."

If you own a dishwasher, the very last place you want to be in the summer is inside it (unless, unlike me, you have trained the rest of the family to rinse their dishes so they don't stink up the kitchen waiting for a wash. And the damned manufacturers don't help by saying "DON'T rise first, it trains our machines to not work as hard to eliminate food build-up.") But we digress.

Now that "experiential marketing" has become a thing, everyone is trying to think up ways for bypassers to interact with something fun that ultimately promotes something else with only a tangential relationship to the "experience."

That LG "street" washer sounds pretty elaborate and expensive. At a lacrosse game a few weeks ago, the Marines brought a pull-up bar that probably cost them $25 (until it shows up on the DOD budget as $2.5 million line item). The challenge was irresistible to high school boys, who were rewarded with the cheapest polyester T-shirt imaginable. Oorah!

PR is a really hard industry for "experiential marketing" -- unless you want to chain a PR person to a chair and have a series of reporters on a surrounding carousel shout at him/her about how misdirected his release was and how the reporters can't be expected to respond to every stupid pitch they get, along with derogatory commentary on the exec's intellectual level for being in PR in the first place. It ends when Bob Garfield walks in and beats the participant senseless with a Louisville Slugger. Just because.

For those who get dizzy when surrounded by rotating woes, there is the traveling "Great Moments in PR" wax figure exhibition. The faces on the "client" figures can be customized to look like the venue visitors, since the client experience is nearly universal.

In our first tableaux, the "could be anybody" client is holding a cell phone, its browser displaying a trade publication website. Anger darkens the client's face as a recording emanates from within: "How did THEY get in this story and we didn't?" Visitors choose additional, customized invective and character assassination easily accessed through a user-friendly dashboard that also lets visitors fire the shamed PR person, face-paint him/her with pepper spray as an incentive to do better, or lecture them for 45 minutes about how easy PR is -- and "why don't you just take reporters to lunch?"

Our centerpiece tableaux is a massed group of public relations execs looking very much like a monument to refugees or Holocaust survivors, meant to capture the moment when they are named in a news report as a "PR" person and all sense of self worth vents into the cosmos, as they realize there has never in the history of media been a mention of a PR person in less-than-derogatory terms -- as if there was the complete expectation that anyone in this business eventually screws up and does shit like introducing known Russian operatives to those idiots currently occupying the White House like the Beverly Hillbillies they are (and writing run-on sentences).

Finally, for Spartan race lovers, the Public Relations Society of America has built a gauntlet in Central Park's Sheep Meadow where visitors pretending to be PR execs climb vertical walls, crawl under barbed wire and blast through tackling dummies while visitors pelt them with stones and see who can yell the loudest: "I don't understand the ROI on my PR!!!" Whoever hits the highest decibel gets to read the course outline for college PR classes and the PRSA's ethics pledge -- readings that always send the observing crowd into convulsive laughter.

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