A public relations stunt for a games company backfired spectacularly when the police bomb squad was called to ninemsn’s offices in Sydney.
The bomb disposal unit was called on Tuesday afternoon after a reporter was sent a beeping black safe with a ransom note telling her to “check her voicemail”.
The ninemsn reporter received a hang-up message from an unknown number the night before, which led to fears she may be being targeted.
Ninemsn called police and evacuated its offices in central Sydney.
The police were so concerned they called in the bomb disposal squad, which forced the safe open and found it contained a videogame in a PR attempt by video game maker Ubisoft for the game Watch Dogs.
Sean Walsh, spokesperson for ninemsn, told SmartCompany he hoped this sort of stunt didn’t happen again to any company.
“This publicity stunt was completely inappropriate and resulted in unnecessary stress for the employee the item was sent to and was a complete waste of time for the NSW police force and bomb squad who had to deal with this event,” he says.
“We thank the NSW police for responding so quickly to our call”.
Walsh says the reporter the package was sent to is an entertainment writer and video games are not even part of her beat.
One of her colleagues tweeted that the failed PR stunt had left the reporter in tears.
Gerry McCusker, online reputation management expert at Engage ORM, says the stunt was an “absolute PR 101 failure”.
“For SMEs, the challenge in public relations is that they need to try and get cut-through in a very congested market,” he says.
“The bolder executions support cut-through, but when you have a situation with devices ticking and beeping and flashing light devices, that actually provokes fear.”
McCusker says while cut-through is important, you can’t push the envelope too far.
“The person to whom they addressed the package didn’t even specialise in video games, so it’s an absolute PR fail in the first order, sending the wrong thing to the wrong source,” he says.
A spokesperson for Ubisoft says the package was part of a “themed promotion” for the game WatchDogs.
“Unfortunately, the delivery to Ninemsn didn’t go as planned, and we unreservedly apologise to Ninemsn’s staff for the mistake and for any problems caused as a result,” the spokesperson says.
“We will take additional precautions in the future to ensure this kind of situation doesn’t happen again.”