In defence of floating something big down the Thames

Yes, it might be a PR cliché and it means a couple of fellow comms pros sneer at you a bit, but that in itself is no reason not to build something big and bung it on a boat.

It didn't take me long when I arrived at PRWeek last summer to realise that the idea of "floating something big down the Thames" held a special, ignoble place in PR folklore.

It's a well-used comms idea that has been done once or twice (or three or four or five hundred times...) already, so much so that it has become the archetypal uncreative idea, a symptom of the dire failings of the industry.

And this is why I jumped yesterday on the story of W floating a giant, green PG tips monkey down the Thames.

I knew that the story would provoke a bit of a reaction from fellow PRs. And so it came to pass. PRs on Twitter lined up to decry the monstrosity.

"Can we all agree that if someone pitches you 'let's float it down the Thames' you rip their deck up then and there," wrote Beth Murray. "Can't quite believe 'floating stuff down the Thames' is still a thing. Let's break a record next," winced Neil Whyte. "I can only pray that respected ex-Frankers were not involved in this heinous crime," added Frank head of campaigns Greg Double. "Come on #PR people – WE CAN DO BETTER," pleaded Will Ockenden. And more beyond.

If floating something big down the Thames is predictable, then do you know what's even more predictable? Complaining about people floating something down the Thames. Oh, the irony.

Of course, some of these criticisms will include a dose of sarcasm and banter that isn't obvious through the medium of Twitter, but nonetheless they miss the point.

I can't remember the last time I was having a discussion with someone about London life and they listed among their annoyances – after slow walking tourists, the District Line, grumpy Northerners complaining about how grumpy Londoners are (don't get me started on that one...), grumpy Londoners, pigeons and the M&Ms shop in Leicester Square – an excess of brand stunts on our waterways.

I'm also yet to come across any rowers who have complained about training being disrupted, boathouse dwellers whining about unsettled furniture or dock workers reporting loss of trade, as a result of large things voyaging down the river.

In time, W will have to justify the cost to its client. But it doesn't don't have to justify it to the rest of the PR industry. This wasn't a campaign aimed at the PR industry, it was aimed at consumers, and consumers don't roll their eyes at the first mention of the words 'Thames' and 'on the back of the barge'.

And hey, let's just be glad it didn't float a giant Johnny Vegas down the Thames. Sorry, Johnny.

Sam Burne James (occasionally grumpy, always a Londoner) is UK news editor of PRWeek

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