Life after a PR disaster

Life after a PR disaster
SHARE
THIS



In May 2009, a young, hapless PR girl at Pulse Communications was the subject of a storm in a teacup after she sent out an email to some of Sydney’s best-known food writers asking them to blog about cat food.

“You’d be required to write a blog entry (about 500 words) by Wednesday May 20th on Fancy Feast cat food and the fact the product is so good it has a stall at the Good Food and Wine Show,” Lucy Treble wrote. “I would need to lock down confirmation by the end of this week to give you adequate time to pen a blog. Please find more information below and do not hesitate to contact me if you have any queries.”

A reply from The Weekend Australian Magazine’s food and wine editor John Lethlean described himself as “slightly delirious with mirth” at Treble’s approach.

“Unfortunately, your email doesn’t indicate just what sort of money you have in mind for me to trash my entire career, but I’ll just assume it’s substantial, given that after I do your bidding, I’ll be sacked by News Limited and will henceforth have a lot of trouble gaining another position or selling freelance work,” Lethlean wrote.

“I’m sure you understand.”

Treble’s boss, Pulse managing director Samantha Allen, was quick to apologise, claiming the email should never have been approved or distributed.

Just four days later, One Green Bean managing director Kat Thomas (pictured) reached out via The Sydney Morning Herald, offering Treble a job. “Lucy is not at fault in this situation,” Thomas said. “She should have been given the appropriate guidance to handle blogger outreach rather than being left to basically have a crack at it. She was a lamb to the slaughter.”

Thomas added she’d be happy to offer her a role at One Green Bean to give her the opportunity to “work alongside experts in both traditional and social media relations”.

It was framed by media writers as yet another opportunity for self-promotion from a PR company – just talk, you see. Nothing more was ever said and nobody ever thought to ask what became of Lucy Treble.

But just a couple of months after the cat food controversy, Treble was quietly let go from her role as account co-ordinator at Pulse Communications. In need of a job, she got in touch with Thomas to see if the offer was genuine.

“I was very impressed,” Thomas says. “She got in touch with me, came in to see me and basically tabled whether I was true to my word and absolutely, I was.”

Treble started the following Monday and stayed for nearly three years as a senior account executive before moving to London in late 2012. She was, says Thomas, one of the company’s strongest publicists and a really savvy operator. “She was a big loss when she left. We invested a lot of time and energy in training and development, which we do with all of our staff. But it was a case of a junior operator needing supervision rather than being handed some instructions and told to get on with it.”

Treble was 20 years old at the time and hadn’t even finished her degree. New to the PR game, she naturally didn’t know how to engage with bloggers but was “pretty much hung out to dry as an individual”, with all hell breaking loose. “She was absolutely vilified,” Thomas recalls. “I just watched this thing unfold over about 12 hours and I just felt sick. I thought, this is some girl’s reputation, who has obviously spent three years doing a degree and studying and has got herself into a job and that is all being undone.”

Thomas contacted the Sydney Morning Herald to say on the record she thought it was wrong to pin the blame on her. She hadn’t been given the guidance around what was then still an emerging area. “No-one knew the rules, there were some safeguards and some commonsense tactics, but her employer had a duty of care to train in her in how to do all that.”

Thomas, who cut her teeth at London agency Cake in the early Noughties, sees herself as fortunate to have trained at a time when the social media world didn’t even exist. “My fuck-ups were pretty much off the record and were all incredibly innocent and benign. Whereas today, I can just see someone’s career unravel and the damage that could be done.”

In an age when googling a prospective employee is de rigeur, Thomas’ act of kindness to Treble saved her from an ongoing digital ball and chain. “I felt any employer would Google her and see this whole shit storm that had unfolded, and it would become a tarnish and a blemish. I hated that, because I felt responsible from an industry perspective.”

Thomas remembers feeling young, impulsive, inexperienced and unworldy in her early PR days pitching stories to news desks for the Daily Mail, the Sun and the News of the World as a fresh-faced 21-year-old. She would typically be given less than 10 seconds to capture someone’s attention before being disconnected. “There’s an art to it. Sometimes they’d use an expletive and hang up. I found it so confronting in my first six months – and then I just had to ‘man up’.

“It was tough training but very good for you, because it made you perfect the art of understanding what was newsworthy and being able to pitch that without calling a very high-profile journalist and saying ‘did you get my press release’.  You just can’t get away with that. You certainly couldn’t when I trained.”

Tougher still was the insistence of clients to pitch a story regardless of the news agenda. Thomas remembers being forced to pitch a story about a snack food that was “very light in terms of news content” the same day as the Paddington railway crash in October 1999, which turned London upside down.

“Everyone was struggling to get to work, no-one knew what was happening or how many fatalities there had been and I had a client who was absolutely insistent. I was young and had no sense of being able to push back.”

Thomas “defiantly” made one phone call to prove her point and fed the response back to the client. It was, she says, a learning curve.

“Everyone is human, everyone fucks up – it is to what degree and to what scale it escalates. You live or die by the decisions you make and if you’re not getting the training and the support then it is a quick road to Fuck-up-ville.”

The news currency around Treble’s unfortunate email blew up quickly but died down again just as rapidly. “These things blow up in the media and then they’re yesterday’s news,” says Thomas. But the snippet is still there online, alongside Treble’s name, until some unspecified point in the future. Possibly forever.

Thomas never spoke about it again and never tried to capitalise on offering Treble employment by garnering PR for her agency through it. “I didn’t want it to look like a cheap publicity stunt – us hiring her to get more column inches for One Green Bean, that wasn’t what it was about.” But they didn’t speak of it again and nobody ever thought to ask what had happened, til now.

“It was known within the industry that she’d come to us and she was doing well. In fact, when we did her exit interview she told me about being approached by head hunters and we laughed about the irony of it – that three years previously, she wondered if she’d ever work again.”

Thomas maintains that Treble was made of “very stern stuff”. Others would have walked away.

“I’ve told her, I’m the first person you call when you come home.”

 

Hazel Phillips is a New Zealand based writer and editor. Her day job sees here edit Idealog.co.nz and she has also just released a book on the history of advertising in NZ called Sell. For more information on the book click here and follow her on twitter with @hazelphilli 

Please login with linkedin to comment

Latest News

Kellogg’s Creates AR Halloween Trick Or Treat Experience Via Shazam & Orchard
  • Campaigns
  • Marketing
  • Technology

Kellogg’s Creates AR Halloween Trick Or Treat Experience Via Shazam & Orchard

Breakfast cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s has joined forces with Shazam and digital agency Orchard to deliver a first-of-its-kind augmented reality (AR) Halloween Trick or Treat experience for families. The campaign, which leverages Shazam’s visual recognition platform and recently-launched AR platform, sees Kellogg’s pilot the replacement of physical gifts in cereal packs with a digital experience that […]

Kraft Heinz Appoints Cummins&Partners As New Creative Agency
  • Advertising

Kraft Heinz Appoints Cummins&Partners As New Creative Agency

Kraft Heinz today confirmed the appointment of Cummins&Partners as its new Creative agency after an extensive pitch process. They will be responsible for brand strategy and integrated creative across the expanding Kraft Heinz portfolio including Kraft, Heinz and Golden Circle. A Kraft Heinz spokesperson said: “After an exhaustive search involving a competitive pitch, we have made […]

Patrick Delany (CEO, Fox Sports), Hugh Marks (CEO, Nine Entertainment Co), Miranda Devine (Columnist, News Corp), Michael Miller (Executive Chairman, News Corp Australasia), Grant Blackley (CEO & Managing Director, Southern Cross Austereo) at Radio Alive 2017
  • Media

Media Bosses Weigh In On Ten-CBS Deal

Do you enjoy articles featuring industry big-wigs? Well, it doesn't come much bigger and wiggier than this, we say.

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Kantar TNS’ Ali Dexter Joins T Garage As Director Of Insights & Strategy
  • Marketing

Kantar TNS’ Ali Dexter Joins T Garage As Director Of Insights & Strategy

Melbourne-based market research consulting agency T Garage has announced the appointment of Ali Dexter as its director of insights and strategy. Dexter joins T Garage from Kantar TNS, where she was the director of its Qualitative division. Prior to that, Dexter held a number of senior roles at Kantar TNS in the US and Vietnam.  “After […]

XXXX on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/AP Images for Adobe)
  • Advertising

Adobe Releases Advertising Cloud App

Not one, but two Adobe announcements. The tech elves have been busy this week, not that we're inferring Adobe is Santa.

Facebook Updates Its VR Offering
  • Technology

Facebook Updates Its VR Offering

Do you loathe Facebook for nicking all the ad cash? Well, why not scream "A pox upon you Zuckerberg" while reading this.

InterContinental Perth City Centre Chooses Bonfire To Build Digital Strategy
  • Marketing

InterContinental Perth City Centre Chooses Bonfire To Build Digital Strategy

Luxury hotel InterContinental Perth City Centre is officially set to open this Sunday, and has already taken strides towards developing a comprehensive online search strategy with digital agency Bonfire. The investment reinforces the desire of the hotel to promote its luxury business facilities, which include corporate and bespoke event spaces designed for local, national and […]

Datalabs Announces New Hire And Promotion
  • Marketing

Datalabs Announces New Hire And Promotion

Aussie data visualisation and content marketing analytics agency Datalabs has announced the appointment of Marc de Chellis to run its business development, as well as the promotion of Cass Lilley to accounts and project manager. De Chellis (pictured above, second from the left) joins Datalabs from Launchpad App Development, where he held the role of […]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Advertising

Inskin Grows Sydney Team With New Designer

Digital advertising provider Inskin, continues to expand its Sydney team, hiring Marc Gundesen as a junior digital designer. Gundesen (pictured above) brings a breadth of skills in web design, animation and account management, and will report to Inskin’s lead designer, Jay McCalla. He joins Inskin from Budgy Smuggler, where he worked as a graphic designer, […]

Agent99 PR Signs Finance Industry Thought Leader Vanessa Stoykov For TV Show Launch
  • Marketing

Agent99 PR Signs Finance Industry Thought Leader Vanessa Stoykov For TV Show Launch

Independent communications agency Agent99 Public Relations has welcomed respected founder of No More Practice Education and founder and CEO of Evolution Media Group, Vanessa Stoykov, to its client stable. Agent99 will be supporting the launch of her Learn from the Money Masters – The Investment Series show on Channel Nine. Stoykov has over two decades […]

Susie Porter & Jacki Weaver Lend Support To Young Filmmaker In Crowdfunding Campaign
  • Media

Susie Porter & Jacki Weaver Lend Support To Young Filmmaker In Crowdfunding Campaign

A new crowdfunded short film is shining the light on barriers for women filmmakers, thanks in part to Aussie actresses Susi Porter and Jackie Weaver. Starring Porter, Beverly explores a bizarre love triangle in middle-class suburbia. It is an unflinching coming-of-age comic drama exploring sexual awakening in the era of technology, and the universal yearning […]