Publisher's "bury bad news" day
Public relations people get more competitive by the day. No more the lazy days when they earned their keep by sending press releases through the post and waiting for the telephone to ring. The keenest now keep a constant eye on the news, looking out for events that can be used as a peg to promote a product.
A publicist working for Halliday Books, an Aylesbury based firm specialising in children’s literature, is obviously one of the keenest. Or perhaps I should say ‘was’, because today the person is suspended. The news that David Cameron’s son Ivan had died had not been out long before she spotted a marketing opportunity, and out went an email to everyone on her company’s mailing list, saying this:
“We’ve all been touched by the tragic news of the death of David and Samantha Cameron’s ‘beautiful boy.
“Halliday Books publish The Lonely Tree, the best selling picture book for children about child bereavement. We’ve already sent a signed and dedicated copy to the Cameron’s this morning but would like to introduce you to this charming title in case you don’t already know it. It would be a perfect soft tie-in to this news story.
“It carries a cover quote from Stephen Fry which reads ‘Utterly, completely and splendidly charming, originally illustrated and delightfully told.’ Even Cherrie Blare bought a copy and sent the author a personal letter of praise after reading it.
“The author Nick Halliday is familiar with TV and Radio and will be happy to be interviewed about the book at any time in the studio or by other means.”
Two and a half hours later, this message was followed by another, from Nicholas Halliday in person, apologising unreservedly, and saying that this distasteful publicity stunt had been carried out without reference to him or anyone else on staff.
Most of us remember the cautionary tale of Jo Moore, the Labour Party special adviser who saw the news bulletins on 11 September 2001 and did what she was trained to do, without thinking through the impact of what she was saying.
The public relations industry can now draw another lesson, that there are occasions when thinking to yourself that ‘this is a good day to promote good days’ is also crassly insensitive.
And, by the way, the wife of the former Prime Minister does not spell her name “Cherrie Blare”
* Since this blog appeared I have heard from Nicholas Halliday. He makes two points. The first is that in the original version of this blog, I identified the company employee whose name is on the first email publicising his book. Though the message was sent from her email address and identified her as its author, I am told that it was written and sent by another publicist in her name, without her knowledge.
Secondly, though Mr Halliday is profusely embarrassed and apologetic about this episode, he balks at the comparison with ‘burying bad news’ , which is something which you shouldn’t do on any day, whereas he believes that encouraging children to read his book, especially if they have suffered recent bereavement is something you should do, though obviously not in the way it was done yesterday.
He might have added that this company have done all they could, as quickly as they could, to repair the original damage, whereas in Jo Moore’s case, the government exacerbated the problem by refusing to admit that there was one.
Even so, the parallel is there. What you have in each case is someone involved in that line of work that includes PR and political lobbying, who applies such a one-track to the main task, whether it be to protect a minister or to sell a book, that she cannot see how insensitive her behaviour looks to everyone else. It is - I repeat – a cautionary tale that should be told to others in the profession.Tagged in: ivan cameron, jo moore, nicholas halliday
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