Riverkeepers' Plan B still gets top marks

You know you've pulled off an effective PR stunt when you get press despite not pulling it off.

You know you've pulled off an effective PR stunt when you get press despite not pulling it off.

Such was the case last week when environmentalist group The Riverkeepers was forced to abandon its plan to fly a small plane over New York's Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. The idea was to recreate a little-known pre-9/11 flyover by hijacker Mohammed Atta, thereby demonstrating how vulnerable the plant, just 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan, remains to a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, low visibility made the stunt too risky (one doesn't want to provide too accurate a demonstration, after all). But with news crews from CNN and WABC already on site, Riverkeepers and its PR firm, Fenton Communications, went with Plan B: take a boat out to the reactor and release about 25 rubber ducks into the water. New Yorkers are "sitting ducks," get it? WABC led with the story that night and CNN did a piece the following night, not to mention pieces in The New York Times and Newsday, nearly all of which mentioned not just the ducks, but the canceled flight as well. It may seem like a lot of coverage for a mildly amusing stunt, but the point is that, like all good PR stunts, this one was more than cute - it had a compelling story behind it. Riverkeepers held it one day before the release of a study showing the health risks posed by the facility. Plus it tied it to the September 11 airing of a new documentary on HBO, Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable. The stunt was the hook, not the story. Get that part right and a truly observant reporter won't even notice if it doesn't happen.
  • Douglas Quenqua writes PR Play of the Week. He is PRWeek's Washington, DC, bureau chief. Ratings: 1. Clueless 2. Ill-advised 3. On the right track 4. Savvy 5. Ingenious

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