Are ambush PR stunts in bad taste?

Public relations is a sophisticated and professional business. 

The industry governing bodies do a great deal to underline the knowledge and value of their membership and the diverse range of skills and services that they provide clients. 

Communication with audiences can be overt or it can be subtle, depending on the needs of the client and who they want to speak to.

But one thing I learnt early on in PR is that there are a lot of people who talk a lot without saying anything much at all. They try to blind clients with obscure language and presentations that mean next to nothing to all but the most savvy of clients and use it to justify hefty fees.

I am not suggesting that we talk in patronising terms or over-simplify the complex and diversifying world of communications. 

But there is a temptation to get sniffy about PR stunts, once the cornerstone of what we did and still capable of raising brand awareness. 

Doyen of PR, Mark Borkowski, talks in his book, The Fame Formula, of the early days of PR stunts and how the legendary circus impressario PT Barnum was the original viral marketeer.

It takes a lot to catch people's imagination or make them chuckle, but this week, two ideas which may have gone up in smoke have made me chuckle. 

This week is the start of the Sochi 2014 Torch Relay, which has lofty ambitions including going into space as Russia seeks to showcase the most expensive Olympic Games in history.

Unfortunately, the flame went out on Sunday when being carried through the Kremlin and a policeman had to relight it, rather than using one of the official back-up Olympic flames.

Zippo, not an official Games sponsor, took the opportunity to build an association with the incident, perhaps not taking into account the justifiably strict marketing constraints put in place by the International Olympic Committee.

It brought Zippo a lot of attention and they had to take their original social media down swiftly, but the stunt had, by all accounts, worked. 

While marketers want to protect the rights of their properties, and Zippo's assertions that they never intended this to be a marketing "event" sound hollow, no real harm was done.

Staying on the subject of flames, England and Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere was snapped smoking last week, receiving a very public dressing-down from his manager and an initial denial via his agent.

To his credit, Wilshere took his first interview opportunity to hold his hands up and admit that he had made a mistake.

It is usually how you deal with controversy and a crisis rather than the incident itself which sets the stall for how you are perceived and in that respect, Wilshere dealt with the story well.

E-cigarette brand Neo decided to use the incident to 'offer' Wilshere a role as an ambassador for their products.

Somehow, I doubt he will get involved, which would only fuel the fire (pardon the pun) but can you blame the brand for taking the opportunity to get a bit of publicity on the back of a newsworthy story?

Stunts of this type may not work for everyone and depending on the brand values, they may well not be appropriate but I for one would certainly not turn up my nose at the wit of others latching onto a story for their own publicity purposes.