When PR gaffes go viral…

If you witnessed the recent Mastercard Mandrake PR debacle, I wonder how you reacted. Did you shake your head and fire off a smarty pants tweet about the proper use of twitter? Or did you cringe like me and stare silently into the middle distance, recalling your own workplace cock ups, muttering ‘there but for the grace of God…’?

Imagine for a moment the cold sensation in the pit of your stomach if you had sent that email to Tim Walker at Mandrake. ‘Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend’ it started and if only that’s where it had ended. Of course, no PR person would admit to something so ill advised – telling a journalist what to tweet – but quite enough has been said on that subject. 

This year is the 25th anniversary of the internet and my 25th year in PR. Back then the humiliation of a PR blunder was usually short, sharp and mercifully contained; sending the wrong fax to a journalist, finding yourself referred to as a ‘gushing PR girl’ in a national newspaper, wearing stupid character costumes, that sort of thing. These days the impact of a workplace howler is instant and spreads faster than the black plague.

Nothing like this has ever happened to you, I’m sure. You probably haven’t even pressed ‘reply all’ in error, or sent an email to the wrong client? Not even a ‘Whoops silly me - forgot to attach the document’?  Or got drunk and wrestled a one legged client to the floor? (No, that was me actually.)

I wonder though, if you haven’t been humiliated in PR, it might be that you’re just not trying hard enough. Or maybe you haven’t been in the business long enough. Don’t worry, just give it time…

I on the other hand, have delivered press releases to the offices of the Daily Sport dressed as an Easter Bunny. I have been groped by d-list celebs and ridiculed by journalists.

Do you remember the craze for projecting things onto buildings? - Quite popular in the nineties. I projected a soft drinks logo onto the side of a cathedral, incurring the wrath of the entire Anglican Church and securing a fully branded piece on the front page of The Telegraph. My account director was very understanding and it all turned out well in the end.

I was lucky, one of my former colleagues had to run the London Marathon dressed as a pot noodle. 

I was inspired by some of these shameful and heroic antics so I created a modern day PR heroine. 

Emily Brighouse is a well-intentioned PR disaster, the hapless heroine of Girls Like Us my first romcom novel, set of course in a London PR agency. There are ball-pit brainstorms, ludicrous surveys, offensive press releases, celeb appearances and PR catastrophes on an epic scale.  A publisher told me the other day that she couldn’t imagine that there could be any more outrageous antics that Emily could get up to, but I’m not so sure.  

Girls Like Us is dedicated to all those brave PR souls, battling daily for that hard won piece of coverage.  And don’t forget to show a little sympathy when someone in this industry cocks up, because next time…it could be you…

Charlotte Ashby, Author 

Creative Moment Awards 2021