The recent so-called “Balloon Boy” hoax provides a teachable moment with respect to blatant publicity ploys. As PR professionals, it is our job to separate the newsworthy wheat from the chaff of fluff, and to counsel our clients on ways to avoid being perceived as publicity hounds.
Here, then, is a sneak peek into some of the methodology we use to discern between a hoax and legitimate news:
1.) The subject at the heart of the story has appeared, or wishes to appear, on any single iteration or combination of Wife Swap, Help! I’m a Celebrity! Get Me Outta Here!, or Dancing with the Buffoons.
2.) The “star of the show” is willing to give multiple interviews from his/her home after the hour of 11 p.m. and into the wee hours of the morning.
3.) The main players in the story met in acting school.
4.) The lady doth protest too much. If they ask, rhetorically, “What could I possibly have to gain from all of this?,” go directly to hoax, and do not collect $200 at Go.
5.) There is some sort of UFO-looking, Jiffy-Pop-resembling, self-propelling aircraft involved.
6.) If the whole caper can be comically encapsulated with a catchy moniker, such as “Balloon Boy,” consider this a red flag.
7.) Even Larry King smells a rat.
8.) Tears are free-flowing. Then they’re not. Then they turn to animus. Then someone mentions, generically, “the children.”
9.) The interviewee repeatedly evades questions with the retort, “I talk only to Regis. Next.”
10.) A child is in danger. A life-and-death crisis is at hand, and time is of the essence. The first phone call is to the media. The second is to the FAA. The third, to Ghost Busters. THEN, the authorities.
11.) Projectile vomiting as a response to a direct question.
I hope this in some way provides perspective amid this crisis. Please consider printing this list and posting it in a public place for all in the company to see and adhere to.