Bunhill: PR folk pale as Sun sees red

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The Independent Online
THERE'S nothing quite so exhilarating as a PR gaffe. And the PRG to eclipse all PRGs occurred last week when Eurotunnel told the Sun that its readers were 'too downmarket' to qualify for passes to travel on the historic first shuttle through the Channel tunnel in May.

That, anyway, is how the Sun understood the position from Eurotunnel's outside publicity agents, Charles Barker. It promptly splashed its front page on the subject, waxing indignantly on the 'snub from the train snobs'.

A leader excoriating 'the toffee-nosed bunch who publicise the Channel tunnel' left readers in no doubt that they should avenge the insult by opting for the ferries. 'Stick that up your Chunnel,' concluded the currant bun in its usual dignified tone.

It was a glorious PR blunder - one to equal Gerald Ratner's infamous description of one of his jewellery products as 'total crap'.

John Noulton, director of public affairs at Eurotunnel, admits: 'We could have done without the story.' But he insists the newspaper misinterpreted what was said by the Charles Barker official.

'I don't believe a PR professional would say that on our behalf,' he says loyally, and dismisses any similarity with Ratners. 'Our product isn't crap. Our product is so good that newspapers are fighting each other for tickets.'

Shell-shocked staff at Charles Barker are putting a brave face on things. Jennifer Potter, the director in charge of the Eurotunnel account, admits: 'It's less than helpful, but it won't lose us clients.'

These clients include Cadbury's confectionery, Spiller's pet foods and even Her Majesty's Government: for it is the Charles Barker hucksters who try to keep alight that dampest of damp squibs, the Citizen's Charter.

'We do see Sun readers as customers, otherwise we wouldn't have spent pounds 100,000 advertising in it over the last few weeks,' Ms Potter adds with meaning. For the moment, Charles Barker has survived the rumpus. But there is a disturbing augury.

I seem to recall Eurotunnel's unamused boss, Sir Alastair Morton, sacking a previous PR agency, Hill & Knowlton, after it set up a cringe-making publicity stunt starring the cast of 'Allo 'Allo.