What’s the definition of a PR stunt?

Just as the aphorism goes that “there are lies, damn lies and advertising,” I wonder if it’s time for someone to come up with one about stunts –especially the PR variety.

Let me be clear. I don’t condemn stunts. In fact it might be construed as another word for ‘tactic’ or creative attempt to make a point.
So I was about to classify this latest ‘underwater cabinet meeting‘ by the President of Maldives as a stunt, but I thought I’d put the question to my readers to check the pulse first. I won’t go into the details here, suffice to say that it takes a bit of effort to get your cabinet to strip down to scuba diving suits –and anchor desks to the coral– to pull off something like this.

But back to the definition of a PR stunt. Here are some past examples that might fall into this category.

I know, there are more. But for our purposes, let’s ask if promoting a cause or a brand validates the approach. Governments are quick to blame each other when an international or bilateral crisis arises, calling it a stunt, even though there had been no specific public facing activity. Headline writers find it a useful 5-letter word to spice up a story. (As in this one, that was clearly a misplaced use of money, rather than a stunt).

I would think a PR stunt is anything that

  1. Involves an event or a sustained activity that is staged, primarily for gaining media attention
  2. Is unusual or controversial
  3. Is connected with an extended campaign that does not involve PR or advertising. Behavior modification, for example

The first –-gaming the media –can be dangerous, if done to fool the media. If the balloon incident being debated this week proves to be an act of self-promotion by wasting time and money of a sheriff’s department, that’s a dumb stunt, indeed.

The second —is often creative and harmless. The guy who dons a pizza delivery attire and ‘delivers’ his resume (attached to the box) to a marketing director, is clearly breaking out of the old method (email or mail) to get his application to the top of the pile.

The third –wins my approval, hands down. This is what all good (insert the word ‘marketing,’ ’cause promotion,’ ‘advertising’ as a prefix here) campaigns ought to be.

President Nasheed’s course of action seems more like the third category. He has a point to make, and what better way than for a leader of a country surrounded by –and threatened by– water to do this?

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