Wednesday 11 June 2008

Not tomorrow's chip wrapper

One of the saddest things about PR is the fact that clients hardly ever read newspapers. They just look at the headlines and pictures. And, unfortunately, neither of those is contributed by the journalists we keep cultivating over expense account lunches.

It does not matter that the story itself is scrupulously balanced, and incorporates all our carefully constructed excuses. If the headline reads “Yet another profit warning from Blogco”, or the camera has caught the chief executive on a bad hair day, we are still doomed.

It took me years of bribery and cajolery to get a certain newspaper to stop printing a grotesque photograph of one client cramming an enormous pasty into his mouth. It became a yearly ritual to run it above the details of his salary and bonus from the annual report, under a witty headline incorporating the words “fat” and “cat”.

When asked what on earth had possessed him to pose for the picture in the first place, the CEO replied “Because they asked”. Moral: never miss a photo-shoot.

The most dangerous moment is when we breathe a sigh of relief and think we have got away with it. That means nemesis is almost certainly creeping up from behind, wielding a sock full of wet sand. Several times over the years I have congratulated myself on not finding the expected damning comments in the business sections of newspapers. Only to realise half an hour later that that was because they were plastered all over the front page.

Last week a national newspaper printed an entirely accurate article about a client. The journalist concerned had even had the courtesy to read it over to me beforehand. I read the cutting on the internet and was not delighted with the headline, but thought it could have been much worse. Then I scrolled down to find a Photoshopped picture of my client looking greedily deranged, apparently brandishing a huge wad of cash in the style of Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney.

I haven’t dared to ask whether he can see the funny side. I expect I’ll find out when I next submit a bill. And thanks to the dead hand of the Elfin Safety boys, I cannot even claim that it is only tomorrow’s chip wrapper.

Keith Hann is a trying PR consultant.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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