By now you’ve heard about the “Balloon Boy” incident in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have seen the footage of the Heene family, of the large Mylar balloon without the boy in it, of said boy, Falcon, throwing up on the Today Show. Falcon also let slip during Larry King Live on Oct 15 that he didn’t respond to his parents’ calls when they were searching for him because: “You guys said we did this for the show.” The media is skeptical, the general public is at once amazed and appalled, and TLC is presumably chomping at the bit since Jon & Kate’s show is now a ratings bust. The word at the water cooler is that the family is getting great publicity and that’s what they wanted all along. (Update: on Oct. 18, the Colorado police announced they’d be charging the parents on various counts of fraud.)
The Heene family’s stint on “Wife Swap” this past March only got them so far and their latest ploy was an attempt to get more attention (duh). Probably the most over-used expression about being in the spotlight is that there’s no such thing as bad press. The public relations profession needs to change this thinking and make sure that this type of press is a mistake and not an intention. And, writing here as someone who covers PR as a trained journalist, I’d say the media as the messenger might want to resist over-exposure of this “story.” Then again, if they don’t cover it, the citizen journalists will steal the show. Just check out YouTube.
PS: If you were the PR firm representing the Heene family, what would your communications strategy be right now?
— Diane Schwartz