The management of British Rail, after a considerable amount of criticism and customer dissatisfaction, approached a large public relations firm in London to handle a publicity campaign to get them ‘back on track’. An appointment was made for them to meet with the public relations team at the firm’s offices.
On arrival, the British Rail group went immediately to reception. As they approached the desk, they were surprised to hear a beautifully groomed but poorly spoken assistant on the phone talking loudly about her escapades of the previous evening. She ignored their presence and went on enjoying her socialising. Finally, she put down the phone, and in a rather uninterested way, directed them to the principals of the firm for their scheduled appointment. They were, in fact, directed to the wrong room, and after some confusion, finally found the right conference room.
By now they were feeling somewhat concerned, but this turned to anxiety when one of the principals rushed in, apologised for being late, and said their would be a short hold-up before the meeting could start.
At the same time, a badly dressed tea lady entered the room, picked up some rather cheap and cracked china and offered tea. The British Rail executives were shaken.
The public relations team then swiftly entered the room, stood smiling but confident, and opened the presentation of their campaign proposal by saying, ‘You now know how it feels like to be a customer of British Rail’.
From McCarthy and Hatcher (2002) Speaking Persuasively: The Essential Guide to Giving Dynamic Presentations and Speeches, 2nd ed. Allen and Unwin, pp.184-185