Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 6 days, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard all about Falcon Heene, better known as “balloon boy” and the publicity stunt that is rocking the nation. Everyone’s hearts went out to poor little Falcon who was said to be trapped in a flying saucer/balloon type thing that traveled 10,000 feet in the air and 50+ miles across Colorado only to be discovered…sleeping in a box in his family’s attic.

I’m not going to lie, I definitely watched the live video online of the balloon flying and spinning wildly and posted a Twitter update expressing my shock under the hashtag #saveballoonboy. For all the attention that this sensational story is getting, it almost disgusts me to add to it. However, as someone in the public relations arena, I feel this is a perfect example of PR gone wrong.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Not only is this insanely cliché, it’s just not at all true. Many, many people actually invested something into this story, whether it was emotion, time, verbal discussion, blog posts (guilty), tax money, whatever. I think in a way, we all might be feeling slightly embarrassed for believing the story in the first place. The collective backlash from this is the effect. Not only are balloon boy’s parents not getting their reality show that they so wanted, they are now being portrayed as idiots and horrible parents for exploiting their child to gain fame. The American people are upset and want to see justice served. Add that to the fines, possible jail time, and possibility that they might lose custody of their children, and it’s safe to say that this publicity stunt totally backfired.

If anything good came out of this, it’s that we can learn a lot from balloon boy’s parents’ blunders from a PR standpoint. I’ve put together my top 3 tips for gaining positive publicity:

  1. Don’t lie. If there’s one thing people absolutely hate, it’s feeling lied to. We hate when the government does it, when our loved ones do it, when anyone does it. Lying to the media is especially caustic. They will find out and when they do, it won’t be pretty.
  2. Make sure everyone’s on the same page. What was the first clue that this was a hoax? Little Falcon spilling the beans on national television. Conflicting stories really make gaining credibility with your audience impossible. That’s why you don’t involve young children- because they are unpredictable. That and because it’s morally wrong.
  3. Think everything through before you act. Think about every implication your quest for publicity might have. Do you think Balloon Boy’s parents considered the amount of taxpayer money in resources that would be spent on trying to find their kid? Do you think they even considered the idea that they would get caught? This is where the Heene’s really missed the boat. The idea was dumb to being with and if they had actually thought it through, they would have realized that.

The Heene’s could have really used a good PR person to talk them down from this awful idea. Here’s hoping that this is a learning experience for everyone.