My biggest gaffe: a vegetarian Bisto Kid

Havas PR London MD Steve Marinker avoids getting teary-eyed recalling his Fleet Street roasting over a Bisto Kids competition foul-up...

Steve Marinker: London MD, Havas PR (Picture credit: Julian Dodd)
Steve Marinker: London MD, Havas PR (Picture credit: Julian Dodd)

Like most PR professionals, my career is littered with foul-ups but the one that affected me most came in the early 90s and was charmingly irrelevant. At the time, though, I was crushed.

Back then, I was responsible for the Bisto Kids of the Year competition. The Bisto Kids were a pair of illustrated ragamuffin children who represented the brand for decades. Each year, Bisto scoured the nation for a boy and girl who resembled the originals. My job was to run the show and parade the winners to the media.

We’d run a good campaign, found six pairs of finalists, chosen worthy winners and presented them to the hordes of journalists. Brilliant. Except one of the winners was a vegetarian.

So what, you may ask? Bisto granules don’t contain meat – people use them for vegetarian dishes. True, but it’s kind of associated with the Sunday roast. Cue howls of laughter from Fleet Street and headlines that still make me wince.

I was the "red-faced" Bisto spokesman desperately trying to save face. It was the only time in my career I burst into tears.

Since then, I always try to look for every potential booby trap while recognising that complete visibility of all potential risks is never possible. Despite the tears and tantrums, I presided over the following year’s competition, though – wisely – it turned out to be the last.

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