Answer: no, it's not.
Consider two new campaigns that were released last week.
On the left, a print/outdoor piece for highlighter pens(!) With apologies to those involved... this feels terribly old-fashioned to me.
But the MJ Bale work, on the right, which put a paywave chip in the arm of a suit, is a totally different beast.
Yes, it was probably agency-initiated, and the principal motivation was probably to win awards, but the crucial difference is that it will also do a great job for the client. In fact it already has - that suit got shedloads of PR coverage.
Like World's Most Powerful Arm, Mobile Medic, Fundawear, FlavorPrint, and Honey Maid, it's a perfect example of the modern, low-budget, tech-based PR piece.
For whatever reason, the news outlets have gone crazy for tech stories - they feature a tech story every single day. Therefore, if you come up with a cool tech idea, it will be featured in the news media, reach millions of people, and get genuine results for the client... as well as winning awards.
Result - we don't need to do scam any more, people.
An interesting side-aspect of this development is it means that we're all in PR now, to some extent. I don't mind, because I think PR is very fun. And fortunately, ad agencies seem to be better at PR than the PR agencies are...
UPDATE - A couple of friends who work in PR have pointed out to me that many of the case studies I listed – including the MJ Bale campaign - were not created solely by ad agencies, but by ad agencies working in collaboration with PR agencies. Which kinda invalidates my point about ad agencies being better at PR than PR agencies. We're better together! Let's do this.