I am beginning to think that the necessary qualifications for working in PR and media relations must include a degree of--perhaps that should be "degree in"--Schadenfreude. It seems to me a truth universally ignored, at least by PR people, that the unfortunates who have to appear in quirky publicity shots are never the folk who dream them up.
Picture the scene: hotel bed, three poets, account director from a PR agency, someone from Radio Scotland and four photographers. This is what greeted me, Elspeth and Richard on Thursday when we arrived for the publicity photoshoot that preceeded the renga at Ten Hill Place [new readers start here, then go here]. Laid out on the bed were white dressing gowns and slippers for the three of us and Ken Cockburn, who was leading the renga. This despite the fact that, the previous day, Ken had expressed to the PR woman our unease with the idea of us being photographed together on the bed in white bathrobes and she had responded along the lines of "they won't have to do anything they don't want to."
Ken had suggested he bring his Japanese tea set for shots with an improvised tea ceremony as an alternative to the bathrobes, but he was late in arriving. Elspeth and Richard, seeing how little hope there was in resistance, put aside their inhibitions and donned the gear. I stood on my dignity somewhat longer, but it was clearly futile. Eventually, under the application of a little pressure, including reassurance that "the photographers will know if it's not working", and without Ken's tea set to provide a get-out, I had little option but to girn and bear it.
We were all still fully clothed underneath the dressing gowns of course. With, eventually, 11 people in the room, that made things a little on the warm side for us. By the time Ken made it, the photographers had been absorbed for several minutes in snapping us in various purportedly pensive poses on the bed and were not interested in a tea ceremony. Unfortunately, they seemed to think it was working.
Really, none of us writers particularly enjoyed the experience. Ken managed to avoid being snapped altogether. Elspeth, to remain sane, took to writing the photographers' commands in her notebook ("Richard, could you--I don't know how to say this--move closer to Elspeth's bum?" is one memorable example) and scribbling unbroadcastable comments on the situation. I'm not sure what kind of expression I wore, but the photographers wrongly concluded that I didn't like having my photo taken and called me "the serious one". It was (you may say) unsatisfactory.
Needless to say, I was less than heartbroken when the PR account director phoned on Friday about further publicity and mentioned that they'd had "a disappointing response from the papers". I was simply glad no incriminating evidence was to be found in the public domain. Still, the renga was great fun.