Worst PR & journalistic disasters
of our time
We asked members of UKPress to divulge the details of PR events
and journalistic endeavours that didn't go quite to
plan. The names have been withheld, where appropriate, to
protect the not-so-innocent...
Press conference about software turns
My worst (finest?) hour was a press event back in 1991. I
took a group of UK journalists to a software event in Munich
on behalf of Borland. The organisation at the German end was,
to say the least, shambolic. All manner of US IT luminaries
were billed to appear. However, due to the Gulf War, most
of them bailed out at the last moment and when we got there
we found mucho disgrnutlement from the assembled European
journos. The guys who did show up were the likes of Marvin
Minsky, Bjarne Stroustrup, Jaron Lanier. At the press conference,
some German anarcho punks gatecrashed. When questions were
asked from the floor, one of the spiky headed ones asked the
panel what they thought of the Gulf War. A flustered Borland
CEO tried to point out that this was supposed to be about
software. Minsky interjects saying, no, these are all journalists
and they can ask whatever questions they like. He then proceeds
to say somehting along the lines of: "Germans are all really
still Nazis". Cue bottles lobbed from the back, general mayhem,
and I'm just sitting there with a very bemused group UK journalists
surrounded by rioting German journalists and punks waiting
for the police and tear gas to arrive. In the end, we managed
to break the whole thing up without any injury to anyone -
but such was the impact of that press conference that one
of the Brit jouranlists who attended referred to it as "the
press conference of the decade" in his magazine's 10th
anniversary issue some eight years later.
You want to put what on my expense
Working on the Borland account in the early 90s was an education.
A trip the following year to the US saw some classic antics.
What about the journalist who, during a week long visit, didn't
attend a single press meeting, but had tennis lessons with
the hotel's professional coach every day. He then presented
me with the $600 bill and asked me to pay it. The same journalist
also copped off with one of the female delegates, caught a
nasty rash, and wanted me to pay the medical bill.
A truly hot press party
When I was working for BT, we took some journalists sailing
to demonstrate BT's part in the Whitbread yacht race. The
day before had seen me entertaining some other journos which
had descended into a drunken mess so the next morning, when
I went to meet these journos, I was only able to grunt when
asked questions. There were quite a few that I'd never met
and one in particular that I really needed to get to know
(journalist 'X'), so I hadn't started well. Anyway, we got
on the boat, sailed off and after a few more 'grunts' I started
to feel better. In fact, so good that when X asked me to do
a commentary for him as he videoed this fab racing yacht we
were on, I was even able to go below with him without embarrassing
myself. I even helped X to set up his portable floodlight
(he was very keen on video!). A short time later, one of my
colleagues said, "I didn't know we were having a barbecue?"
I was also unaware of this plan and questioned why she thought
this might be the case. "Can't you smell it?" she said and,
yes, I could. In fact, all of a sudden there was smoke everywhere
and we 'announced' that there was no barbecue, the simple
fact was that the yacht was on fire. Everybody frantically
searched for the flames but after a short while we noticed
that as X was helping in the search, he was trailing smoke.
In fact, it was billowing out of his coat, but he appeared
to be oblivious of this. So despite my PR training, along
with others, I jumped on him and tore his clothes off. He
had put his portable floodlight in his pocket without switching
it off! He had a few layers on so hadn't noticed that the
light had burned through several items of clothing, we doused
the glowing embers with lager and poor X was left in a bit
of a state, with only a t-shirt and his jeans unburned or
soaked in lager. That was seven years ago and X is now a firm
contact and a good mate.
CEO becomes a captive audience
I forget the brand, but at the launch of the first US people
carrier, a car with all the senior execs in the back was driven
onto a stage in front of literally hundreds of journalists
and photographers. Unfortunately, no-one had trained the execs
to operate the childproof locks, so the assembled group were
treated to the sight of the car literally rocking for the
best part of a minute as these poor people struggled to get
out. Cue gales of laughter, a lot of red faces and probably
a PR in search of a new job. Moral: rehearsals and attention
to detail are key to success!
Vinnie Jones in Pepperami palaver
The almost-highlight of my career was when Vinnie Jones was
promoting some processed-meat-snackette thing at a show and
we almost managed to arrange a 'Vinnie meets his match in
a giant Pepperami' photo opportunity. But VJ refused to do
it - Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels had just been
released and I suppose he doubted whether a photo of him grappling
with a 7ft Pepperami would do his credibility any good. Interestingly,
I haven't heard of the processed-meat-snackette thing since
and the show itself was canned shortly afterwards - if there'd
been a spot of fisticuffs, it could all have been so different.
The quietest launch party in town
Went to a launch for a hi-tech installation for
London's hospitals, really just to see if it was interesting,
and let everyone else ask the questions. Turned out I was
the only journo to turn up, so I had to face four intimidating
hospital bigwigs with no questions, no knowledge and no dictaphone
/ notepad. I got through it, but the sad part came later.
Walking to the station with the depressed PR, I was scrabbling
for conversation. "So how long have you been doing PR for
[the company]?" I asked. "Doesn't matter - I'm not anymore."
they said. Ouch.
Mind your sub editor
The classic howlers involve production. Wasn't it one of [name
witheld] magazine's that printed this profane instruction
from a disgruntled designer/sub: "please put some f******
text here!!!" My favourite typo of all time is 'poface station'
instead of 'police station.' Or 'Soild Gold' instead of 'Solid