Public Relations and the Power of the Unexpected

pleasant surprise and PR

One of the hallmarks of good communications, good branding, good marketing, good crisis management and effective public relations is consistency. When people know what to expect from you – hopefully good things – your brand, your reputation and your effectiveness is enhanced.

When your stakeholders have the time to anticipate something good, and then you meet their expectations, the entire process works to deepen the impact of whatever you do. This is because your stakeholders are given the chance to participate in your communication with them. It’s not one-way.

But there is something to be said for the unexpected as well.


When a man surprises his wife or significant other with flowers for seemingly no big reason, what do you think the reaction will be? Surprise? Happiness? Delight? Joy? Skepticism?

Perhaps all of the above. I had a friend who did this once, and the first thing his smiling wife said to him was, “You want to play golf this weekend, don’t you?”

Apparently, she was making plans for the both of them to paint a spare bedroom, and he had other ideas. She knew him well enough to know what he was up to.  In the end, she was very happy with her flowers and the fact that he had a change of mind to paint that room.

This points to the impact of the spontaneous gesture, the goodwill gesture, for seemingly no big reason. It can be powerful if handled right.

Planned Unpredictability

First off, if your organization decides to surprise its stakeholders with good news, or a reward of some kind, it should not be a surprise to you. It shouldn’t be impulsive on the part of the organization. Put some planning into that announcement that you are introducing summer hours for the staff.  That way you can make sure the move not only has the desired positive effects, but that it doesn’t lead to unexpected negative effects. If you do introduce something like summer hours, for example, how does this affect the hourly personnel? Will they be taking pay cuts?

Secondly, it’s never a good idea to surprise your stakeholders with good news if you give the impression you’re only doing it because you want something from them. Just like my friend, who wanted his wife’s blessing for him to play hooky on some household chores, the unexpected gesture has to be a genuine goodwill gesture. No strings.

The only objective of the gesture is to form a stronger bond with the people who matter to you. Nothing more. If you package this gesture into a process, where shortly afterward, you’re going to ask your stakeholders for something, or deliver some sort of unwelcome news, the pattern will be transparent and it will backfire. In the long-run, you’ll be sowing the seeds of distrust, not trust.

Predictable Unpredictability

I once had a client who had a terrible habit of not paying his bills on time. In fact, the only time he did pay an invoice was when he knew he was going to call me for help. After a while, when I unexpectedly received his payment for a past-due invoice, I knew to expect his call, and he never deviated from the pattern.

The lesson here is that even when you think you’re being somewhat unpredictable, chances are you’re being much more predictable than you may realize.

But the larger lesson is that being unpredictable is not always a bad thing – if you do it right.

Think of ways to treat your most important stakeholders to something good, something new, something they didn’t have to ask for, and then give it to them. No strings attached. And then enjoy the fact that they are happier, and your relationship is that much stronger.

What pleasant surprises do you like to receive in business? Let me know.

Posted in Corporate & Strategic Communication, Crisis & Issues Management, General, Marketplace, PR & Media Relations, Workplace Communications and tagged , , .