Chapter 18 - Skinny dipping in North Carolina
Maurice Corina was one of the few journalists to be trusted when I switched into public relations.
In 1973 Edelman in London was appointed by Celanese Corporation to handle the public relations for Cytrel, its man-made tobacco supplement that was to be used in cigarettes to be test marketed by Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher in the UK.
This was a highly sensitive move given the strength of the anti-smoking lobby in Parliament and the public at large and called for a high risk PR strategy.
My plan was to invite five leading journalists, known for their knowledge of the tobacco industry and investigative reporting styles to be given a comprehensive briefing on Cytrel before the cigarettes were launched. If the publicity was negative, the launch would be aborted.
Maurice Corina was my obvious first pick, followed by Richard Milner, a lawyer by background, who wrote for the Sunday Times Business News, Sandy McLachlan of the Financial Times, Lawrence McGinty, then of New Scientist and later to become Science Editor of the award winning ITV News, and Richard Woodman of the Press Association, Britain’s national news agency.
The briefings took place at a Celanese facility in Charlotte, North Carolina and everything went very smoothly.
The journalists and the Celanese executives sat down to a very informal dinner to mark the end of the visit and suddenly it all fell apart.
The heat and the Southern Comfort cocktails took their toll on the journalists and I managed to get them back to our motel. Other guests were around the swimming pool when we arrived and one of our party, Richard Milner, decided it was time to go skinny dipping. Off came his clothes as he pranced around the poolside in front of horrified hotel guests.
Cheered on by the other journalists, Richard continued his war dance until I decided to step in. Richard – small, wiry, and naked – did not make an easy opponent so I decided he needed cooling off and I pushed him into the pool. It worked. With Maurice’s help I fished him out and got him to his room. The other journalists went to bed as quiet as lambs.
The next day we had arranged for the journalists to telex their stories back to London and by this time I was terrified what they would write in the wake of the poolside incident the night before.
The best I could do was to have some early warning of what was in their stories and be prepared to answer the fall-out. So I hatched a plan to intercept their pieces before they actually left Charlotte and thankfully all worked out well.
How I did it was illegal and must remain my secret. To my relief as well as the clients, the stories were positive, as far as they could be.
Richard Milner was particularly supportive and later the group, headed by Maurice apologized for their behaviour. We all laughed it off.
The Cytrel cigarettes were launched quite successfully but never really took off because the British Government at the time refused to support the ‘safer smoking’ campaign by reducing the tax on them.
Back in London, I confided in Maurice how I had ‘kidnapped’ their stories. He simply smiled but I sensed he had made a mental note never to trust a PR man again.