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The Grim Reaper reminds us PR isn't dead

Updated: May 8



Unless you have been in 'deep lockdown' you can't have helped but notice the results of our Florida Grim Reaper Campaign last week.


With a trending social media story, press coverage measured by the 'column mile' and features and clips on The Daily Show, Jimmy Fallon Live and news reports around the World, it reminded us that in this age of 'mobile-first', TikTok, gifs and memes there is still a lot to be gained by good old fashioned 'public relations'.


Our client's brief was 'to make people stop and think about the risks they were facing' after the State Governor's decision to reopen some beaches here in Florida. In the U.S. alone, more than 75,000 lives have already been lost and 1.2M confirmed COVID 19 cases reported and the curve isn't flattening.


It is literally a case of 'Life and Death' and we needed to find something which worked emotionally, was eye-catching and memorable, but didn't downplay the severity of the situation.


We knew the Grim Reaper character had been used as a campaign tool in New Zealand with great effect to warn swimmers of the dangers of riptides and currents. In Australia in the 80s he was used to warn of the AIDS virus in a campaign that was deemed too hard hitting by broadcasters and pulled from TV. Clearly, getting the balance right was going to be our challenge.


We felt it would be an appropriate use of this character in our campaign here in the USA, especially juxtaposed against the backdrop of our beautiful, healthy, pristine beaches. Also, because we were starting our campaign in the 'Ol' South' of Northwest Florida - aka the Redneck Riviera - the 'Angel of Death' connotations may have a little extra punch.


As any PRO knows, a good image can be the make and break of a story and one which causes the 'double take' is always a winner. We reckoned the sight of a hooded, scythe-carrying Grim Reaper parading along the shoreline past throngs of bikini-clad spring-breakers, old dudes fishing and unsuspecting tourists reclining in beach chairs was always going to give us the 'WTF' factor.


And good PROs will also agree sometimes luck and good fortune fall your way too - this was certainly the case for us.


Arriving at the beach access, with the lifeguard station to the left and sunbathing tourists to the right, we set up for a live TV link into a local news channel's Lunchtime bulletin. Because of social distancing recommendations, the reporter told us she was going to hand the mic to the Grim Reaper to tell his story to camera.


OK. Good with us.


This was the rocket fuel our story needed and as the picture demonstrates, a visual of the Grim Reaper reporting live from the beach must have caused many a sweet tea to have been spilled in living rooms across the broadcaster's reach.


With 'TV Gold' in the can, we set about harnessing on-demand replay and social media distribution, and soon this image and its 45 second clip quickly racked up 10million views worldwide!


The rest of the week was spent fielding calls, handling requests, writing Op-Eds from The Grim Reaper for newspapers and websites, and sharing pictures with news outlets keen to put our campaign on their pages and our screens.


A great image. A good story, And social and digital savvy. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise - public relations is alive and well.





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