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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 into riot
From Andrew Smith
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 account?
From Andrew Smith
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
From Dave Pincott
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
From Iain Frazer-Halpin
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
From Sarah Clelland
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
From Stuart Dredge
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
From Geoff Harris
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 Gold'.

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