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Duffy balloon: how to pull a PR stunt

28 July 2013 No Comment

Canadians found the good old fashion PR stunt to be alive and well last week when the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), pulled up on the shores of the Ottawa River, just opposite Parliament Hill, with a hot air balloon…a much larger than life talisman of Senator Mike Duffy.

Canadian television journalist Mike Duffy of CTV.

Canadian television journalist Mike Duffy of CTV. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The giant Mike Duffy balloon was launched as the mascot for a campaign for Senate reform, and was meant to represent “the hot air” in the upper chamber of Parliament.

Run during the summer silly season,  typically a quiet time when it comes to parliamentary news, the stunt was perfectly timed to gain the attention Canadian news outlets from coast to coast, and so it received massive mainstream coverage. Stunt organizers provided an excellent photo opportunity, provactive soundbites and entertaining b-roll, all key components of a successful publicity event.

“It’s part Goodyear Blimp and part Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, all rolled into one enormously inflatable symbol of Senate excess. Meet Mike Duffy, in balloon form. The beleaguered senator from Prince Edward Island was rendered as a two-and-a-half-storey blow-up doll for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s campaign to hold a referendum on the fate of the upper chamber,” reported the CP wire service in a story that ran in newspapers and on news websites coast to coast.

“The inflatable Duffy holds a briefcase bursting with money in one hand, while the other is outstretched asking taxpayers for more — a jab at the senator’s dubious expense claims and the subsequent scandal involving a $90,000 cheque from the prime minister’s chief of staff,” wrote journalist  Ishmael N. Daro, the trends editor at Canada.com.

As a photo opportunity, the set up couldn’t have been better. Few news editors could resist the temptation to run the image of the three-stories-high inflatable Duffy floating at the water’s edge with Parliament Hill forming the backdrop.  In the foreground, CTF Federal Director Gregory Thomas, dressed in a carnival huckster’s garb is seen standing at a podium.

The stunt had been in the works for about a month. The CTF wanted to take advantage of the notoriety of the recent Senate scandal to draw attention to the need for senate reform.  “Duffy is the most recognizable face of the Senate scandal right now,” Scott Hennig, a CTF spokesman who helped co-ordinate the creation, told the Ottawa Citizen.

It doesn’t matter what your politics are or how you feel about the issue of Senate reform, you have to admire the ingenuity and creativity of the stunt organizers. They relied on tried and tested tactics of media relations: create a highly-visual even, time it right, and get content and collateral into the hands of reporters and news producers. Stand back and watch your story gain traction.  Long live the publicity stunt!


  1. “Giant Mike Duffy balloon terrorizes Ottawa” · Ishmael N. Daro · July 18, 2013 · Canada.com » Politics and the Nation

This article was originally published on the Thornley Fallis blog.

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