VentureBeat had an interesting article on the PR stunts used by video game companies to let them be heard above the din in their hyper-competitive world. They are similar to news stories we’ve all seen about suspicious-looking items left in public streets, fake bombs or dead animals brought into public venues to garner attention. It’s difficult to know when we crossed the line from PR being about putting the best spin on every story to the unfair and frightening manipulation of human emotion. But, with every organization’s continued effort to be the best, coolest, most creative company with the most awesome widgets, even B2B companies find themselves wondering just how far they can push the envelope.

First, that old adage about all PR being good PR? Forget it. It’s not. Your company’s integrity shouldn’t be called into question because of a PR stunt. And, do you really want to strike a note of fear in people or leave them wondering about the mental health of your PR staff just to get that paragraph in a hot tech pub? It’s not worth it if the only time someone cares about what you’re doing is when you’re generating a negative response. Be fun, be quirky, be compelling and even contradictory, but don’t seek to offend or alienate. After all, PR is designed to drive awareness of your product or company and teach people about why it’s different/better from the competition. But a fake bomb doesn’t do any of that. It’s just meant to get a reaction. This usually works for a moment but is easily forgotten. Or worse, it may be remembered as a reason not to do business with the company who pulled the stunt.

So, how do you stand out if you’re not getting a rise out of people? Well, a few things have always been true and remain so today.

Don’t cross ethical or moral lines for a stunt — yours or your client’s. If something feels wrong, check with others on their gut reactions and listen when people say it’s going too far.

Steer clear of anything that may land you in a conversation with Homeland Security. This can really make a work day go downhill. Seriously, fake bombs will get the Feds pretty interested in talking with you. And you were “just” doing PR.

Be clear on your message and how you’re different from the competition. Choose three points you want your audience to take away from conversations with you and be clear on how you’re doing things differently from all the others. Yes, you will still need to do this.

Don’t confuse good marketing and PR for lots of coverage. Catching headlines these days is often less about what you’re doing right and more about what you’re doing wrong. It can be intoxicating to see your name in lights but if no one knows who you are  or what you do because of it, you’ve failed.
Whether you’re talking to B2B or B2C audiences, you’re still talking to your consumers. You want to establish relationships with them. You want them to trust you. The pranksters of any group are usually viewed with distrust. Companies who pull stunts on their prospective consumers may suffer the same fate. And, we don’t generally buy from those we don’t trust.

Whether you’re the new, cool startup or the infrastructure technology that keeps other technologies running, it can be tempting to look for ways to get attention any way possible. But, if we look at the most successful companies with the longest histories in their respective markets, they achieved their pinnacles by delivering great products to consumers they know in a market where they stand out as unique.