PR nightmares

Halloween is just around the corner, and as seasoned storytellers, we thought what better way to mark the occasion than to share our scary stories – although probably not the sort you’re used to. 

Do you want to know what really keeps us PR people up at night? Nothing chills us to the bone quite like reminiscing about serious PR mishaps – whether those of our own or the more infamous disasters that go down in history as ‘what not to do’ examples in the PR playbook.

I asked my colleagues at Skout to share the cringe-inducing scary stories from their careers in PR to date, and they did not disappoint! In fact, we probably got enough to produce a (very long, very sad) book. So, while I’m in the process of writing that highly anticipated thriller to profit off their misfortunes, here are the high(low?) lights, grouped by the overarching lessons learnt.

Don’t do creativity for creativity’s sake

  • Possibly the worst idea ever involved me having to sit in a bath of Vimto pretending to be engaged to a colleague for a valentine’s story! You see, B2B ain’t that bad!”
  • “We decided to pitch to a major email and internet provider as if we were auditioning for a talent show programme. No one laughed or got it – it went down like a lead balloon. We didn’t win it. But that wasn’t as bad as the time we thought it would be a good idea to ‘fake’ kidnap a prospect and drive them around London (they were in security). We didn’t win that one either.”

Remain professional through new business pitches at all times

  • “We turned up for a pitch only to discover we’d got the wrong office. We lost it.”
  • “I was in a really long repitch once and it was quite clear we were only there to make up the numbers. The people we were pitching to were clearly bored and not interested and one even walked out of the room mid-way through my presentation!”
  • “The prospects started arguing among themselves after calling one of my ideas ‘less Ferrari, more Robin Reliant’.”

Make sure your talent is briefed thoroughly

  • “I was working on a launch to take place in Covent Garden in London for my glass recycling association client. The client arranged the delivery of the glass recycling banks but we had to arrange the glass to use as part of the photoshoot. Two of us travelled down to London on the train with four bin bags full of empty glass bottles. We were met at Covent Garden by our celebrity, a well-known wine critic at the time. She then promptly refused to sit on top of the glass recycling banks.”
  • “I once had to almost rugby tackle a Good Morning Britain television presenter back in the 90s when she very nearly destroyed a gold monopoly board worth over quarter of a million pounds – clearly hadn’t listened to me saying not to throw the dice because the diamonds would scratch the gold!”

Some clients are nicer than others

  • “One time my client insisted on drinking carrot juice before a face-to-face briefing with a journalist and had an orange moustache for the entire session.”
  • “I had to brief a client’s CEO over from the US for media briefings while standing at a urinal – ‘walk with me – I need to take a….’”
  • “I was scapegoated by a client who wanted to wriggle out of their contract. Their entire management team of 10 came to our offices with the intention of holding me personally accountable to poor results.”
  • “Once I took a client to Euston meet a journalist. The journalist had clearly had a rough night and looked as if he’d crawled out from under a bush. The client asked me if he was homeless.”
  • I had to follow up the ‘best PR idea ever’ which gave the client £000,000s of coverage. Unsurprisingly the next idea was a total flop in comparison.”
  • “A very famous CEO got off the plane from California and was driven to his hotel in central London, where he walked in, took a look at the lobby and turned around and walked out again because he didn’t like it. Cue me trying to find another hotel room in three minutes flat.”
  • “My client fell asleep in a press briefing with tier one journalists. She was really jet lagged having just flown in. Nobody should have booked those meetings for her in the first place. I ended up coughing really loudly to try and wake her up!”

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Take note of key dates, disasters and national holidays

  • “I had to organise a media event in London on the same day as a tube strike – the client wouldn’t let me cancel it.”
  • “I had to do a client launch the day after Princess Diana died because the client wouldn’t let us cancel.”

And finally, don’t make an exhibition of yourself

  • “The last day of my PR placement was the company’s AGM and it was my job to have a new exhibition stand ready for the company reception. It was last minute and I had to book out an estate car from the car pool to pick up the exhibition materials from Liverpool. This was before the days of lightweight pop-up stands – they were all thick MDF panels all professionally designed and ready. On the way back, the boot opened on a dual carriageway and they all slid out. Then a transit van ran over them! I had to pull over and run into the road to grab the boards before they were completely ruined. In the end the boards did get used – complete with tyre marks!”

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