Candidates Both Fall Flat With Their Bailout PR Stunts

Last Updated Sep 25, 2008 2:24 PM EDT

Barack Obama and John McCain both ventured into the realm of PR stunts Wednesday in response to the Wall Street financial crisis, and both fell flat with their efforts.

First, let's stop for a sec and define a PR stunt: an action or announcement that's more flash than substance. Now, let's define a good PR stunt: one that has people nodding approvingly, brings some fresh energy to your story and basically doesn't detract from your overall message. A bad PR stunt: one that is easily seen for what it is, and therefore diminishes your message or reinforces negatives about you.

McCain's PR stunt was his brash announcement that he would "suspend" his campaign to return to DC and work on the bailout. It's a stunt because he has continued campaigning, making a speech in New York today, running TV ads and having his surrogates appear on the air, while not appearing to play any meaningful role in the bailout talks. Except for his loyalists, he is being derided for the move, which reinforces his shoot first, aim later style. Not good.

Obama's stunt was to call for a "joint statement" from the two campaigns that would describe their common perspectives on the crisis and the bailout proposal. While not as gutsy as McCain's ploy, it's very Obama-esque in its "can't we all get along" style.

In his case, the stunt fell flat because the joint statement turned out to be worthless drivel, making him look ineffective and not presidential. It got almost zero coverage. I spent 10 minutes trying to search for the damn thing online and couldn't find it in a form I could link to -- how lame is that? [If you're interested, here's a link to something close.] It's not even posted on the Obama web site, as far as I can tell.

Memo to the campaigns: get back to what you do best: attacking each other, repeating your soundbites and raising money. Leave the PR stunts to real PR people.

  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.