Reactive PR: everything you need to know to make your next campaign a viral hit - Punch Creative
June 8, 2023

Reactive PR: everything you need to know to make your next campaign a viral hit

It’s 2023, and for your brand to be successful you’ve got to be relevant, relatable and on trend, whilst keeping your brand consistent. What a minefield, right?

Traditionally, PR has been seen as a proactive approach, where your approach should be strategic and carefully planned. But times have changed, and we bet you’re missing a trick!

Reactive PR has quickly emerged as a key part of an effective communications strategy. Keep reading to find out why reactive PR is an absolute essential.

We’ll cover what reactive PR actually is, Punch’s favourite reactive PR campaigns, top to do’s and top do nots!

What is Reactive PR?

Reactive PR, also known as responsive or agile PR, is the practice of actively monitoring and responding to events, problems and trends in real-time.

This means we have to be agile, adaptable and able to respond quickly, making sure that we’re tapping into that already actively engaged audience.

Why? Because it will:

  • increase impressions
  • build brand awareness
  • boost your brand impact

It’s now so much more than just scrambling together a press release to address a scandal, or writing a blog and social media post weeks after an event has happened.

Proactive PR involves taking control of the narrative, anticipating potential trends, issues or events, and then strategically communicating this with your stakeholders. Whereas reactive PR allows us to change the narrative, capitalise from current trends, adding an extra layer to your strategic communications.

Our favourite reactive PR campaigns

Need some inspiration so you can spot potential opportunities in the future? Look no further than some of Punch’s favourite reactive campaigns below.

KFC’s chicken shortage apology

KFCs chicken shortage apology

Remember when KFC ran out of chicken back in 2018? We sure do – our web team in particular were heartbroken. But we digress! They reacted to this potentially negative, brand damaging experience and came up with this campaign below 👇

After customers expressed their dissatisfaction, with some even contacting the police to report this ultimate crime, KFC nailed their reactive PR and put a punny spin on it.

Following a quick POEM strategy (paid, owned, and earned media)- they used paid media to share their ad with the masses, which in turn sparked a tonne of earned media from people’s reactions to KFC’s quick-thinking and transparent approach to the crisis. The campaign was shared 219 million times and reached around 796 million people*.

So, let’s take a FCKing moment for this genius campaign.


Back when Beyonce launched one of her Ivy Park collections, evidently mimicking the Sainsbury’s uniform colours and style, the #SainsBey gained serious momentum as the similarity went viral.

Sainsburys hopped straight onto this trend and released the campaign below on the same day 👇

Their humorous campaign positioned Sainsbury’s as relatable and on trend, and shared just how strong their branding really is – being noticed by just their uniform and colourway.

Well done Sainsbury’s. Fingers crossed Beyoncé’s next Ivy Park collection has a hint of teal and yellow…

F*ck Oatly

A brand scandal is never ideal… or is it? Following numerous PR disasters, scandals and a legal battle, a website titled F*ck Oatly was launched. But in a major twist, Oatly itself was actually behind this reactive PR stunt.

The campaign was reactive in addressing the issues but strategic in terms of the promotion. They waited until the web traffic spiked before they started to promote this by announcing themselves as the brains behind it all! 

The website’s purpose was to solely address each of Oatly’s PR mishaps in one place allowing the brand to be completely transparent.

The website allowed them to react to negative press, promote their brand goal “to be consistently inconsistent”, and relate to their audience by adding a touch of humour to their PR. With page views growing from 792 when it first launched, to 247,000 at its last reported peak, they’ve certainly created a talking point with this campaign!

Brewdog: Barnard Castle Eye Test

We hate to mention it, or get political, but we can’t talk about reactive PR and not mention Brewdog’s release of a new beer that was inspired by Political Advisor Dominic Cummings. Cummings broke lockdown rules by travelling 260 miles to a family home in Durham, whilst infected by the Coronavirus (we’re glad we’re not his PR team!)

Brewdog’s founder James Watt saw this opportunity in real-time and launched a limited edition beer, prompting his 67k twitter followers to vote for their favourite name.

Watt prompted them to choose between “Cummings & Goings”, “260 miles”, “Stay at Homes” and “Barnard Castle Eye Test” on which the graphic included a blurred text line and was the clear winner.

This reactive PR stunt was on trend, reached a highly engaged audience, promoted their product and also allowed them to lead into proactive PR – as all profits went towards funding production of sanitiser that was given free to the NHS & Health Care Charities.


Coming in hot as our number one has got to be Aldi and their #FreeCuthbert campaign.

Aldi’s PR agency took the legal proceedings submitted by Marks & Spencer who claimed Cuthbert was too similar to Colin and created a reactive mainstream media campaign in which they poked fun at the complaint.

The reactive strategy saw Aldi make use of multiple trending events, call out other rival caterpillar cakes, and maximise their use of hashtags.

This reactive campaign saw so much success that it now influences Aldi’s full-time marketing and PR strategy, seeing them continuously use their humour to take potentially damaging events and flip them, to increase engagement and keep their brand relevant. This has led to a well established, loyal consumer base and increased sales!

Top tips for reactive PR

Reactive PR is strategic, and your approach does still need to be well thought out, regardless of the real-time nature.

Here are some easy-to-implement tips for you to reference for next time (and keep an eye out for some chunkier PR strategy resources coming your way very soon!)

  • React quickly: don’t miss the boat. Trends, hashtags, events and topics are all incredibly time sensitive, so whilst it’s not in our marketing nature to react quickly with little strategy or planning, you’ll need to adapt to nail reactive PR. Social listening is a great tool for this. Implementing effective social media monitoring tools and processes can identify issues before they spiral and highlight great opportunities.
  • Pick your battles: if you’re going to “newsjack”, make sure your campaign is still on brand. Whilst it’s still great to flex your brand tone of voice and personality, some things just might not be the right fit.
  • Know your audience: how do your audience engage with posts? What do they like? Are they Gen-Z or Gen-X? Men or women? Do they want humour or do they want sincerity? Does this trend relate back to your product or service? Keep this in mind when you’re creating your campaign – because being reactive isn’t an excuse to not think about your audience profiles! They’re the ones who will make the campaign a success (or a flop!)
  • Keep it transparent: mistakes happen, you can’t cover these up. If your reactive PR involves crisis management, it’s best to be honest. This will go a long way in restoring public trust and reaffirming customer loyalty. Whether it be a public apology, rectifying a mistake, demonstrating accountability or engaging with your stakeholders, communication, action and overall reputation management is key in restoring (and maintaining) a positive brand sentiment.
  • Have fun: When it comes to reactive PR, audiences respond better to humour so don’t forget to have fun with it (of course crisis management would differ – don’t push your luck too much!). Make sure you show your brand personality through your reaction, don’t be dry and think creatively. It could be the difference between a viral hit and an engagement no-show.

What not to do with reactive PR 

  • Don’t ignore or delay a response: real-time action is key, so never put off a response if a direct issue or crisis comes to light. You have to be the first responder and take control of the narrative, before it controls you. It needs to come first!
  • Don’t be defensive or play the blame game: Shifting the blame or reacting defensively can create a negative perception of your brand. Brand reputation is key with PR, so consider what’s needed in the response, accountability, an apology or an action – then deliver. And make sure to keep it simple!
  • Don’t neglect social media listening: You want to make sure that you’re the first in-the-know when someone talks about your brand online. Minor concerns can escalate and become major and you’ll potentially miss out on great opportunities.
  • Don’t be a copycat: be authentic, show your brands unique personality, take the trend and make it yours. Or it won’t gain any traction and no one will be talking about what you did – and then it will feel like a waste of time and effort. It pays to put a little more thought in the beginning, to get a big pay off with the end result!
  • Don’t be reactive to everything: reactive PR is just one part of your overall strategy. When the trend goes away, you need to consider what you’re left with and that’s where proactive PR comes in. Remember, reactive PR boosts your activity but proactive then maintains it.
We hope this blog has given you an insight into the land of reactive PR but if you’re still a little unsure, we have an expert team who can help with your PR strategy.
Reach out to our Senior Marketing & PR Executive [email protected] to chat about how we can make your PR strategy shine.

According to Campaign Live*