My biggest gaffe: Trying to herd cats for PR purposes

Barry Gardner, director of Barry Gardner Communica­tions, recalls an early lesson in the value of letting people learn from their mistakes.

Twenty years ago I ran a campaign to promote a global insurer’s flagship home policy.

In my first in-house role after journalism and an agency stint, I was bursting with ambition. Inspiration struck – the policy had a free legal helpline, so I interviewed the lawyers on the calls they received and hit pay dirt.

To my pride, The Sunday Times took interest in my resulting "Demolition Dogs and Calamitous Cats Leave a Trail of Destruction" release.

Alas, I didn’t know the journalist and deployed high-energy charm and boyish humour. I educated him: "The legal status of dogs is different from cats. Should a driver hit a dog it must be reported; not so for a cat."

I warmed to my theme: "If a neigh­bour’s cat ate your prize-winning pigeons, legal recourse is unlikely." Fatefully, I quipped: "But of course, you could always run it over!" And so I landed my first national front page with a haunting cartoon – which, I learned, was that journalist’s stock-in-trade – in vivid colour, complete with me looking out of a car window reversing over a wide-eyed cat with a pigeon in its mouth.

He even got the brand on the number plate. Feathers flew. Hate mail from cat-lovers and an internal enquiry raged. I was certain I’d be fired. Defended by a heroic communica­tions director, however, I survived. So, when someone slips up, I remind myself of this experience, and the value of having someone in your corner who lets you learn from your mistakes.


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