My biggest gaffe: big budgets, the Queen and a last-minute PR panic

Mary Whenman, president of Women in PR, wanted an event fit for a Queen but ended up almost making a right royal bungle.

In the 1990s, working in PR was a different ball game. It was the time of big budgets, big ideas and lots of fun. I was working as an account director at Paragon Communications, alma mater of PRWeek’s editor-in-chief, Danny Rogers. We were running the Samsung Europe account and were asked to open their factory in Teesside, which was delivering £450m of inward investment to the UK. We invited the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to open the factory.

We were given a £1m budget for the one-day opening event. We spent the money well and chartered a Boeing 737, a Sikorsky helicopter and Falcon 900 jet. We appointed Peregrine Armstrong-Jones, who organised David and Victoria Beckham’s wedding, to manage the celebratory lunch.

We had commissioned a leather-bound, gold-blocked visitors’ book for the Queen to sign, which our account executive had brought up from London. I unpacked it at 10pm the night before the event. There was a typo on the cover. Peregrine called the then CEO of Asprey, Naim Attallah. By the following morning a new visitors’ book, with hand-carved gold-blocking, had arrived from London. I never knew how it got there.

As the Queen walked through the factory, we realised the book was not on the table for her to sign it. My colleague ran down the corridor with the book, slammed it on the table, opened the nearest door and stood in a broom cupboard.

I learned to assume nothing and check everything.

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