Things That go Bump in the Paper

December 2, 2015 |

I’m an absolute sucker for a ghost story. If you want my attention, tell me about how you once saw a ghost. Seems I’m not alone, as one of the oldest PR stunts in the bag to draw instant interest, is the ghost ‘sighting’.

Whilst the ghost sighting story can be popular at this time of year, as it has the added bonus of darker nights, morning mists and general autumn spookiness, it always seems that stories like this occur mostly during the summer silly season. This is the period where we’re all usually on holiday and there’s not much happening, so PR companies start seeing ghosts in the hope of seeing column inches, awareness and footfall for their clients.

Now I am disappointed to say that I have never had the honor of sending out a ghost sighting story, and I go green with envy when I see such a story in the paper, that I once again had nothing to do with.

But do they work? In the main, they draw interest, but they probably put off far more people than they attract. This is mainly due to the fact that whilst people like me would find a place that was haunted more interesting to dine at or stay in, many others would avoid them like the plague. There is also the fact that most people consider the whole prospect of ghosts ridiculous and the stuff of fantasy – not obvious traits that the majority of brands want to be known for!

So who uses the ghost sighting stories to good effect? Hotels, restaurants, period homes – basically places that people don’t have to live in, but can enjoy the thrill of visiting.

Those that would run a mile from a ghost story in the media could be (in the main) estate agents, home owners or construction firms converting old buildings into apartments.

The balance is that whilst a ghost is fun to visit, it’s perhaps not that great to live with.

So what is there to be gained from this type of publicity? I am sure that visits to stately homes treble when there is a ‘sighting’ captured on film – as this is one of the reasons why people visit them, to get close to the past, albeit perhaps not that close. The UK tourism industry has proven over the years that it certainly knows how to monetise a spectre, so this is a dead cert winner for them (sorry).

For the restaurants and bars though, I don’t really get it. Yes, those who believe in ghosts say that they are most likely to be seen when buildings are ‘disturbed’ through renovation, but surely the exposure gain from the story is short-lived at best? Publicity here should be about the menu or the leisure experience that is so much better than everyone else’s.

I knew someone who once owned an old restaurant that burnt down, and the publicity caused the business to absolutely soar, when the damage was repaired. This was of course unwanted publicity at the time, but it benefitted from it in the long run. I should mention at this point that the building was ridiculously haunted according to the owners, but they never used it for cheap publicity – just let it be gently circulated by rumours – picked up by those who were interested, whilst not terrifying those that definitely weren’t.