Dressing the CEO as Captain Kirk Almost Backfired
Editor’s note: “When Theory Meets Practice – Stories From the Workplace” is a new feature in the Huntsman Post where we invite professionals to share stories of challenging events that tested them with the unexpected.
By Steve Eaton
I had a vocational nightmare once that nearly spoiled all things Star Trek for me for years to come.
I used to work for a large company that would give out bonuses to employees as incentives when the company did well. Several times they held a big event to announce the results. I was a member of a small group of communications people who were tasked with making this announcement event memorable and motivational. We took great pride in our work and the rare opportunity to be truly creative.
One year we really out-did ourselves and threw an announcement party with a science fiction theme. We talked the CEO, a normally dignified man, to dress up like Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, and we talked the COO, someone who claims he never saw a Star Trek episode, to dress up like Spock. It was all going to be great fun and quite memorable. It proved unforgettable to me, but not as I had hoped it would be.
Several weeks before the big event - which was just before Christmas - there were some employees laid off. I can’t remember why there were layoffs and bonuses going out at the same time, but we heard rumors that some of the disgruntled former employees were going to tip off the television stations in town so they could do a story contrasting the sad layoffs and our showy party.
Now, don’t blame me, I was just a low-level PR guy in the company. I was asked, however, to stand outside this room where the event would be held in a convention center and to convince any television reporters who showed up that this was a routine meeting and there was really nothing to film.
Let me set the scene some more. We had all the lights in the place dimmed. We had small rotating spotlights from the ceiling circling the room. We passed out tiny key-chain flashlights to everyone who entered to give it that rock concert feel. Then we were playing music from movies such as, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Twilight Zone,” “Star Wars,” and “Star Trek.”
So, are you getting the picture? A darkened room full of hundreds of tiny moving lights, the Twilight Zone theme song on an impressive surround-sound system, and a CEO and COO dressed up like Star Trek characters. I’m thinking this might have proven too eerie for even die-hard Trekkies.
And did I mention it was in a very large room and all the doors were wide open? You could see all this going on from the hallway. I was not supposed to order the cameras out, which would, of course, be a stupid PR move, but I was just expected to convince them that there was nothing out of the ordinary or visual about this meeting.
I did not enjoy that special event as much as I had previous ones. I just paced back and forth in front of the doors trying to think of what I might say, feeling like I was the guy elected to inform Darth Vader he had bad breath.
No television cameras showed up that day, and I was not required to perform any mental PR gymnastics. But I don’t think I’ve ever been able to completely relax during a Star Trek movie since then. For I had boldly gone where no PR person had gone before, and I’m here to tell you that if you want to live long and prosper, you should let such explorations be someone else’s final frontier.
If you have such a story to share, please send it to Steve Eaton at firstname.lastname@example.org.