Alan Edwards: Michael Jackson memorial: The view from Los Angeles

As soon as I disembarked from the BA flight at LAX, I immediately bumped into Matt Smith of Sky News. If I needed reminding that this was a world media event, here it was.

Alan Edwards, Outside Organisation CEO
Alan Edwards, Outside Organisation CEO

The area in front of Staples Center was already buzzing with TV crews and trucks. Many had been camped out for days and most had been running around LA for a week or so.  This was a culmination of one of the biggest media stories of all time. UK newspapers had added sales of levels unseen for years. Legendary US publicist Ken Sunshine confirmed this was the biggest gathering of live TV crews ever seen, even more than the Obama inauguration. Helicopters buzzed overhead, it was almost reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster. 

Interviewers wilted in the strong sunshine.  Kay Burley of Sky had hung on in there for nearly 12 hours continuous broadcasting, perched on the tower, interviewing the people behind the scenes from Jessie Jackson to AEG Live's Randy Phillips - the man who brought the whole tour together in the first place.

Our role on the day provided many PR challenges. We had the administrative problem of accommodating as many as 70 UK media, all of whom needed accreditation to enter Staples Centre, plus TV crews and their requirements in terms of live feeds etc.

Of course, the event was pulled together in just two days with no time for extensive meetings or a proper reccy of the arena.  We were unfamiliar with the building.  How do you get from front of house to backstage dressing room and where are media seated?  This difficult at the best of times, but especially so when in unfamiliar terrain.  We also had to think carefully about the sensibility of the occasion and how relevant messages were managed.  All communications had to be handled with care.

Back in London the Outside office team led by Celena Aponte and Natalie Whorms, worked tirelessly to ensure a constant flow of information to media at home and abroad. We lined up interviews with a wide range of media for both organisers and participants for the show.  Actually making this happen was another matter.

Inside the giant Staples Center, the UK media was sitting down to watch the event. On my left was Nick Allen from the Telegraph who was taking copious notes and immediately in front of me were James Desborough of News of the World and Pete Sampson of The Sun, both watching intently, only breaking to check the name of the vocalist duetting with Mariah Carey.  Jo from Outside and I decamped to the cavernous corridors backstage where we bumped into an understandably distraught Usher.

We had a number of our clients present, apart from AEG Live, P Diddy and Usher for example, so it was important to touch base with them too.  We would usually assemble a big team for an event like this, but the last minute nature of things meant we could not.  We just tried to ensure everything ran smoothly, in a media friendly way, ensuring clients wishes were undertaken as best as humanly possible.

In a backstage dressing room, Randy Phillips patiently described the thinking behind the show to the UK media over the phone. Eva Simpson from the London Paper and Thomas Whittaker at Hello Magazine got a scoop from behind the scenes.  OK! were next to follow. 

Meanwhile, the arrival of the casket and grieving Jackson family members was a strong reminder as to why we were all gathered here. Not just for his passing, but to also celebrate Michael Jackson’s life.  He will surely go down in musical history as the greatest entertainer of all time. 

Outside the news crews were dismantling their set up; the LAPD were standing down; t-shirt sellers packing up and the fans beginning to drift away.

We decamped to an Italian restaurant for a very late lunch courtesy of Tom Bryant of the Mirror and Katie Hind of the People.  I realised I had not eaten anything bar a fruit plate for about 18 hours.  That’s what it's like in a crisis PR situation of this magnitude. 

You forget the normal everyday things in life and spend your time anticipating what's going to happen and when the moment arrives it takes on a slightly surreal, timeless quality and suddenly it's over and everyone has gone home. The stories are filed, interviews done.  Normally it's onto the next story but in this case there are likely to be many further installments.  The UK media won't be complaining.

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