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What Is Guerilla PR Anyway?

By Michael Levine
Expert Author
Article Date: 2004-09-16

If you're going to apply the principles of Guerrilla P.R. to the age of the Internet, you have to know something about Guerrilla P.R. itself. in case you have not worn out a copy of Guerrilla P.R. or have forgotten some of the finer points since that book was published in 1993, let's take a fresh look at the concept. After all, the world has changed.

Public relations is the art, as one of my colleagues put it, of "offering people reasons to persuade themselves." In other words, we are not Madison Avenue; we don't tell people what we want them to think. Rather, we give them evidence, facts, and opinions that help them reach a conclusion. If we're good at what we do, they will reach the conclusion we've been hired to promote.

The differences between traditional public relations and Guerrilla P.R. are relatively simple. First of all, public relations firms like mine are available to people with a lot of money, because we charge what we consider to be reasonable fees, which are out of reach of many small or one-person businesses. So entrepreneurs and small business owners need to learn and apply the same skills I use every day in service of their larger, more well-heeled rivals. But these skills can't be used the same way, since they require more money than most small businesses can afford. Not everyone can buy a minute of time on network TV to get the message across.

That's where Guerrilla P.R. comes in. This down-and-dirty offspring of the traditional method is based on an idea I developed called the Tiffany Theory. The Tiffany Theory is an idea that sounds simple but, like most such theories, is so basic it contains numerous truths.

My Tiffany Theory states that a gift delivered in a box from Tiffany's will have a higher perceived value than one in no box or a plain box. That's not because the recipient is a fool; it's because in our society, we gift-wrap everything: our politicians, our corporate heads, our movie and TV stars, and even our toilet paper. Tiffany paper places a higher perceived value on things.

In effect, what I do each day is gift-wrapping. I take a message and wrap it in the finest paper from Tiffany's. No matter what the message may be, I try to make it sound more appealing, more interesting, and more useful. If I do my job correctly, the consumer (who gets the message through television, newspapers, radio, or the Inter net) will get the message. But first, that message has to go through editors, producers, reporters, and website managers. The Tiffany paper adds perceived value and cachet.

Notice, now, I said, perceived value. In public relations and publicity, perception is truth. It isn't what happened that counts, it's what people think happened. This is the absolute day-to-day currency of politics, entertainment, and most other industries. In our case, we're looking at how the public-that is, the segment of the public you believe is your customer base-perceives your company. Not what your company actually might be.

Does that mean you should lie? Never. Lying, besides being morally wrong, is quite literally indefensible. That means, at some point, you're going to be found out. And even if you weren't, you would have to start living the lie-remembering what you told the people interested in your business, and hearing people call you what you said you are. It's too hard, and it's not worth it. Besides, it's plain bad business.

When I say that the perception of the truth-rather than the truth itself-is the stuff of great publicity campaigns, I mean that the truth will take care of itself. But you have to make sure that the image you project, the perception you offer to potential customers, is what you want it to be.

For example, a man named Dave Schwartz decided he'd start a car rental company that would lower rates to the consumer by featuring cars that weren't 100 percent new off the showroom floor. He had a choice to make in terms of the perception of his new company, and he chose to beat critics to the punch with a strong sense of humor and a catchy company name: Rent-A-Wreck. Now, Dave didn't lie (his cars weren't wrecks, they drove just fine, so maybe he exaggerated a little), and he didn't fall into the trap of emphasizing price. After all, his competitors already had names like Thrifty and Budget. He hit you in the funny-bone, made his impression of a fun car rental company-with the implied promise that the cars would cost less because they weren't brand new-and launched a very successful business.

It's all in the perception. But is this a contradiction of the Tiffany Theory? Did Dave actually wrap his cars in Kmart paper to make his point?

Not really. Dave still wrapped his message in Tiffany paper. He made sure local news outlets, publications, and media companies knew about his company, and he emphasized exactly how reliable and economical the rental cars at Rent-A-Wreck would be. By downplaying the appearance of the cars-calling them "wrecks" he allowed the media to expect dented, scratched, beat-up cars. When they toured his facility and saw cars that were only slightly used, Dave didn't have to say a word. The message got out that the "wrecks" in question were very reliable, attractive cars that would be available for a lower rental rate because they were used. A brilliant, subtle piece of Tiffany wrapping.

About the Author:
Michael is bestselling author of Guerrilla PR, as well as 15 other books.


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What is Guerilla PR Anyway