Humour in PR is rare and for good reason. It is difficult to get right. But this week, amidst all the EU In or Out campaign headlines in the UK, was a story that brought a smile to all Harry Potter fans. And a very well-judged response from the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children’s PR team.
Pictures of giant hoops, reminiscent of Quidditch goal posts, were all over the news because it came to light that an official-looking plaque set up alongside the art installation was anything but official.
Humour in PR: the Quidditch goal posts
Two years ago the plaque was conceived, funded and installed by a former Bristol University student Cormac Seachoy. He found the art installation outside the hospital constantly reminded him of the goal posts in a fictional sport that forms a central theme in the Harry Potter books. He raised the money from crowd funding and with a mate, stuck the plaque up in the middle of the night in November 2014, then posted it on Facebook and tweeted it.
It reads: Dedicated to the children of Bristol, the 1998 Quidditch world cup posts enchanted by Adou Sosseh. Have a magical day.
If you are not a Harry Potter fan you might not know that Quidditch is played by wizards and witches on broom sticks. You would have to be a real Potter aficionado to know that Malawi won this fictional sport’s world cup in 1998 beating Senegal. Or that Adou Sosseh was the captain of the losing team.
The prankster, Cormac Seachoy, was subsequently diagnosed with terminal cancer and died almost exactly a year later. The story of the plaque was out there on twitter and Facebook but went largely unreported. The hospital administration had either not noticed the plaque or assumed it was part of the art. They only realised the whole story when asked about it by the Bristol Post last week.
Humour in PR: Bristol Children’s Hospital response
This is their response: “The appearance of this plaque was a magical and mysterious event that we did not know anything about – but we are sure that our patients and their families will appreciate it. We do plan to keep this but ask that any other magical beings that wish to erect plaques on our site do speak to us first so that the muggles amongst us can say thank you and look after and maintain these gifts”.
(Muggles are non-magical beings in the Harry Potter books).
Of course, had the hospital administration said or done anything else they could have landed themselves in very hot water. Taking the plaque down could have made them very unpopular. Being anything other than appreciative of the prank would have seen them branded spoilsports, dishonouring a good man who died too young. But whoever came up with this response got it just right.
Humour in PR: some pointers
If you are inspired to use humour in your own PR here are some pointers:
- Be careful, something that is funny to one person can easily offend another.
- Self-deprecating humour is probably safest.
- Paying homage to someone or something else often works well. In our example, the use of ‘magical’ and ‘muggles’ in the response does, in its way, pay homage to JK Rowling the author of the Harry Potter books.
- Referencing something that is well known and understood by your target audience helps to create the idea that you and your business are all part of the same community.
- Almost too obvious to state, but use colloquial not formal language.
Humour in PR: other examples
Picture credits: Art installation, Bristol Hospital Education services. The Plaque, Cormac Seachoy Facebook page. Cormac Seachoy Facebook.