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Can I have another drink please…?

When I was a PR-director for AT & T in the early nineties, I travelled the world  to promote the company in many countries. We organized almost weekly press conferences or briefings. These press conferences were always prepared in detail and we regularly hit the editorial columns or RTV news. But a few times we turned the shelf quite wrong.

Like the time in 1992 when AT & T entered into a collaboration with a Russian physics institute. In the TrenMos restaurant (from Trenton-Moscow run by a Russian / American businessman) we had about sixty journalists gathered. Reception with beer, vodka and champagne; that was common practice those days.

We were just ten minutes on our way in the conference,  when a huge guy with a red beard stood up and raised his hand. I suspected an important question, which came: "Sir, when do we get another drink?". Well, the rest of the attendees had the same question obviously…We had clearly not taken into account what the Russian media came for at that time. Anyway, it was getting late that night in the TrenMos restaurant.

     Another example of misjudgment. Again, AT & T, the company where almost everything in telecommunications has been invented. This time

AT & T announces a fibreoptic ring around Africa, to connect all African countries to the rest of the world. The location is the Marriott in Cairo. Again full house. A Director in typical American corporate fashion, thus considerably hyped, explained the telecommunications project, key words: commitment, connecting Africa, global community; that work. After half an hour a tall journalist from Uganda asks in very broken English: "Mister, what in fact is telecommunications?" ... Okay, stop here…he was not the only one who absolutely did not understand what it was all about. Telecommunications? Never heard of!  Incidentally, located at the Marriott in Cairo there is a great bar; Harry's Pub which was the hangout for many journalists at that time. I went there in the evening an ran into a  CNN reporter who was willing to make an item for the World Business Tonight section. So we fortunately did not came back completely empty-handed.    

     Press conferences: sometimes they go wrong... After hard work you  finally got a room full of journalists, you have your story well prepared to bring to stage. You have the headlines already in your mind. But then some pesky journalist raises annoying questions and see:  the other journalists diligently write it down. Press conferences remain difficult events, the risk of failure is enormous. Look before you leap is the motto.

Cees Steijger

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