Dorothy Crenshaw October 7, 2009 | 11:50:39

Expense-A-Steak: Brilliant PR, Or Blatant Fraud?

We in public relations sometimes start our creative sessions with the mantra, “Let’s think up some ideas that could get us fired.” Part of what clients pay us for, after all, is to push the limits of what’s conventional. But, some concepts come really close to crossing the line.

That’s why I laughed at the recent stunt from NYC steakhouse Maloney and Porcelli, courtesy of agency Walrus. It’s a deliciously simple application called Expense-a-Steak. You simply enter the cost of your pricey steak meal at, and, presto, it downloads a sheet of phony expense receipts to justify your extravagance.

The page looks so authentic, it’s scary…it has copies of crumpled New York City taxi receipts and realistic-looking bills from just slightly off-brand retailers like “Office Supply Hut” (complete with a phony logo featuring a paper clip as the “u” in “Supply.” You have to love it.) There are even faux doggie bags to hide the evidence. According to AdAge, the camouflage sacks actually carried the logos of innocuous restaurant brands like Sbarro and Chipotle – that is, before the cease-and-desist letters started.

At first I couldn’t decide how I felt about Expense-a-Steak. It definitely sizzles with PR potential, generating lots of tongue-in-cheek coverage for M&P, but does it serve up a tempting invitation to commit expense fraud? Not really. Upon closer look, the receipts look suspicious ($399 for printer toner?), and the dates are out of whack. It might give your corporate accountant indigestion, but I doubt it would pass muster at most companies.

But the ploy makes for juicy buzz marketing, and not just because it put the M&P name on people’s lips. With the recession taking a big bite out of the traditional expense-account lunch, it brings welcome humor, a topical appeal, and even a pang of nostalgia to the table. For me, it’s a reminder that an occasional indulgent meal – in the name of business, of course – might just be a reasonable trade-off from the months of meals at my desk. It got me thinking that it’s worth cutting back in other areas.

Maybe I’ll forego a few cartloads of printer toner…oh, and cut out the taxis. They’re always going up…did I mention my last airport fare came to $400? (Lunch included.)

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