My biggest gaffe: Never underestimate the power of free

Loudmouth PR account director Clare Johnson failed to appreciate the public's enthusiasm for free stuff.

It should have been the sort of campaign that an account exec’s dreams are made of when, as part of a nationwide campaign for a fuel brand, my highly successful media sell-in resulted in regional press and radio interest from across the country.

The plan was simple. My client set up a partnership with a tyre company to educate customers on the potential fuel and cost savings of its new tyres. Free fuel would be provided at five forecourts across the UK.

Our campaign was planned with military precision. One site would provide free fuel for a four-hour period each day. But there was just one little glitch. We slightly underestimated interest from the public.

Much to our surprise the radio journalists began to call again. But this time they were looking for comment from our client after an overwhelming number of cars headed to the first petrol station. It was in Gateshead, and quickly the main road in and out of Newcastle was at a standstill. Police were called to handle the congestion.

Luckily, the client was very calm, so we decided to go ahead with the next location the following day… where a similar scene occurred. This time a sleepy country village was the victim and the event was actually called short.

We had embarrassingly failed to appreciate the awesome power of ‘free’. There was a happy ending, however. Our client was quoted in coverage as being helpful and professional and the agency built a lasting relationship with the tyre company.

It was a useful lesson in logistics, and it is one element that has never been overlooked when planning campaigns since.

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