Memo to PR industry: do not post live animals to journalists

‘Tis the season for giving, but Dr Mumbo was concerned to see journalists today tweeting they had been sent a live butterfly by a Sydney PR company.

photo (4)He would like to remind the industry that we’ve been here before, remember Advantage Adelaide and the whole dead goldfishgate anyone?

To Dr Mumbo’s mind live animals do not make good presents for journalists. Full stop.

Indeed, Dr Mumbo senses the PR company Free Publicity knows this as its director Vanessa Free’s first question to him when he rang was: “Are the butterflies alive or dead?”

This latest butterfly promotion is being run by Free Publicity on behalf of the TV show Under the Dome which is out on DVD today.

“It’s is directly from the actual TV show. It is a dominant theme in the series and so that is what we are replicating,” said Free.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 3.19.49 PMIn Free Publicity’s defence the company did take steps to ensure the journalists would be around when the butterfly was delivered to accept the live animal.

Free said thus far none of the five butterflies they had sent out had turned up dead and they had taken steps to avoid it happening. “We had a one hour demonstration and we take it very seriously the staff have been trained in the care of them,” she added.

But that training doesn’t really help the hapless journalist whose office suddenly becomes a butterfly sanctuary does it?

“We worked very closely with the company that supplied them and they were very happy with the process and that was really important to us because they are the experts,” Free said.

“As long as they were happy with everything that was happening then we were happy.”

Dr Mumbo is more of a sceptic on using living creatures for PR, particularly as we learnt in 2011 these things always start out as good ideas.

Dead_gold_fish-468x403Sure, the whole “be the big fish in a small pond — come and test the water (in South Australia)” goldfish bowl may have seemed like a clever idea at the time.

But when a journalist receives a dead goldfish, butterfly or other creature, they’re not going to be all that inclined to write stories about you.

Well at least not positive ones…

Update 4.30pm, December 4

Vanessa Free has also sent this explanation through to Dr Mumbo:

We have worked extremely hard on the process of these 5 butterfly’s that were sent out. There were clear instructions provided to the media, contact made with the Journalists 1 hours prior to confirm they were at their decks and this was appropriate and contact made with them immediately after the courier had dropped the delivery off. We also worked very closely with the experts that work with Butterfly’s day in day out (called Butterfly wranglers) to ensure this was a positive experience for everyone. As I’m out of the office I can 100% confirm this process for 4 out of the 5 parcels – the 5th I’m waiting for the publicist to confirm with me I believe this was whom I know she has now spoken to and provided him with a clear outline of the process we have taken.

Update 8.40am, December 5 

Dr Mumbo’s spies tell him that Redfern PR agency Adhesive PR also did the same stunt for their client Trend Micro back in late August.

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.21.57 AMIn this case the butterflies in envelopes were to promote “virus protection for social butterflies.” Get it?

The “fun creative mailers” for this campaign saw the agency send out boxes with the live animal in it with the label “60% of social butterflies fall victim to an online threat”.

At this point Dr Mumbo is starting to wonder whether the bigger threat to butterflies, social or otherwise, isn’t from Sydney’s PR industry…


  1. Rob
    4 Dec 13
    3:51 pm

  2. I have heard a horse’s head also sends a pretty memorable message.

  3. H
    4 Dec 13
    3:51 pm

  4. “We hope you will be able to except this”, “butterfly’s”…. Jesus Christ, just when you thought the stunt couldn’t get any worse…

  5. Anonymous
    4 Dec 13
    3:52 pm

  6. This is stupid and shameful.

  7. El
    4 Dec 13
    3:52 pm

  8. Wow Vanessa Free, way to miss the point.

  9. Bell
    4 Dec 13
    3:57 pm

  10. I’d fire someone who didn’t know the difference between ‘accept’ and ‘except’

  11. Emmy
    4 Dec 13
    4:00 pm

  12. I feel like a PR Manager should know how to use apostrophes. It’s ‘butterflies’, Vanessa. And a stupid idea. Leave the poor things alone…

  13. Exceptional
    4 Dec 13
    4:02 pm

  14. Nice spelling mistake in the pre-release email – ‘available to except this’. Looks like they were looking for people to make exceptions to the ‘no live animals’ rule.

  15. TDMJ
    4 Dec 13
    4:07 pm

  16. I’m not sure what is more horrifying – the use of live animals, or the terrible spelling and grammar!

    ‘Butterfly’s’ instead of ‘butterflies’?

    ‘Except’ instead of ‘accept’


  17. Sure
    4 Dec 13
    4:09 pm

  18. 1. There are so many typos and crimes against grammar in Vanessa’s statement I barely know where to begin

    FFS people. No live animals as PR gifts. Ever. Full Stop.

  19. LA
    4 Dec 13
    4:11 pm

  20. And who sends something to a journo for them to ‘except’ rather than ‘accept’…but on second thought…perhaps it is the right wording?

  21. Terry
    4 Dec 13
    4:19 pm

  22. Do PR companies no longer worry about grammar?

  23. daveg
    4 Dec 13
    4:27 pm

  24. They were also confirming that the journalists were at their ‘decks’ – so either on a boat or relaxing out the back at home? The hits keep on coming.

    May have saved the world from some catastrophic events though – those were some butterflies not able to flap their wings for awhile.

  25. Di
    4 Dec 13
    4:27 pm

  26. Oh dear, there’s one PR group I will never employ. Poor grammar, the failure to learn from the mistakes of others and a poorly thought out execution on a theme doesn’t fill me with confidence in their abilities.

  27. The Professor
    4 Dec 13
    4:35 pm

  28. Hoping their service offering includes crisis management.

  29. Surly
    4 Dec 13
    4:41 pm

  30. Was there the remotest chance this naff stunt was going to result in any publicity anyway? When was the last time you saw a story about something as banal as this series being released on DVD anyway. Maybe I’m reading the wrong publications.

  31. Tracey
    4 Dec 13
    4:50 pm

  32. Next time Vanessa has an hour spare for butterfly demonstrations, I would like her to put it towards a lesson in how to use apostrophes.

  33. Corrie Sanders
    4 Dec 13
    5:24 pm

  34. Why all of the references to the PR ‘industry’ when it’s just one company we’re talking about? So there was ‘goldfish gate’ too but these two halfwit ideas are in no way indicative of an entire industry.

    There are hundreds, if not thousands of PR firms in Australia that would never dream of doing such a thing. Do you castigate an entire industry on the back of one crappy TVC?

  35. Paul McKeon
    4 Dec 13
    5:54 pm

  36. OK. I’m lost. What was the point of this?

  37. Cath O' Pillar
    4 Dec 13
    10:11 pm

  38. I take acception to this.

  39. Tony Jones
    5 Dec 13
    9:11 am

  40. Well, lepidopterous does rhyme with preposterous !!

  41. No Idea
    5 Dec 13
    11:27 am

  42. Another example of our education system at work. Reeks of laziness from stem to stern.

  43. Casey
    5 Dec 13
    12:41 pm

  44. Call the RSPCA!

  45. Barkeep
    5 Dec 13
    12:47 pm

  46. I wish Corrie Sanders’ comment had a Like button. Or is it Corrie Sander’s?

  47. TROUTS
    5 Dec 13
    12:57 pm

  48. Desperate creativity gone wrong.

    I think I’ll mail them some dead prawn heads…

    It’s probably illegal (might ask AusPost).


  49. Nikita
    5 Dec 13
    1:17 pm

  50. I don’t think anyone’s mentioned Vanessa’s poor use of grammar yet.

    As a Sydney-based PR professional, I can assure Dr Mumbo that I, personally, am no threat to butterflies, social or otherwise.

  51. J
    5 Dec 13
    1:45 pm

  52. I really hope you do a follow-up story on the crisis management that’s probably going on right now at this firm.

  53. natalie
    5 Dec 13
    2:08 pm

  54. omg…………….

  55. James McCallum
    5 Dec 13
    2:08 pm

  56. Absolutely moronic, and un-original to boot!

    Vanessa, how about some creativity instead next time?

  57. Julius Grafton
    5 Dec 13
    2:12 pm

  58. I once sent a single second hand house brick, parcel postage collect. Then another, and a third. The following day I sent a building plan for a brick dunny. The recipient understood clearly my intentions! A stunt that hurt no living creature….

  59. Pre Requisite
    5 Dec 13
    2:14 pm

  60. If you’re going to work in PR and be the representative for an organisation, please ensure your english is at least at a standard high school level.

    I couldn’t look past the “Could you please confirm you will be available to except…” and “Butterfly’s”


  61. Peter
    5 Dec 13
    2:15 pm

  62. I’m thinking the butterflies aren’t Free.

  63. Kiim
    5 Dec 13
    2:21 pm

  64. Sending any live invertebrate, fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal or bird, as a PR stunt, is very very cruel.

  65. ben
    5 Dec 13
    2:31 pm

  66. do they look after Cricket australia?

  67. Craig
    5 Dec 13
    2:33 pm

  68. There was an earlier goldfish-gate in maybe 1990 when goldfish were sent to a couple hundred journos at 3pm on a Friday to promote A Fish called Wanda. I remember dozens of fish at TCN9 all lined up in plastic bags and waiting for people that wouldn’t be in the office till Monday morning. The RSPCA and I had a good chat that evening.

  69. LJW
    5 Dec 13
    2:46 pm

  70. This whole story is full of spelling mistakes. If I was horrified at the butterfly idea, I’m appalled at the level of grammar and spelling this PR agency owner has.

  71. Joc
    5 Dec 13
    2:57 pm

  72. I’d like to see this done with spiders.

  73. GC
    5 Dec 13
    2:58 pm

  74. The element of surprise is kind of ruined if you keep telling someone your bringing them a live animal or if you kept it secret and hyped its arrival and you walk in with an envelope and they’re all like where’s my gorilla-gram rap-troupe hauling a husky sled full of Krug I know I would be disappoint.

  75. David Hague
    5 Dec 13
    3:10 pm

  76. ” …please ensure your english is at least at a standard high school level.”.

    I’d hope they aim higher than the average high school student. (And isn’t it English with a capital ‘E’?)

  77. offal spokesperson
    5 Dec 13
    3:25 pm

  78. Living creatures are not ours to treat as we wish. Shameful, where is PETA when you need them?

  79. Bec
    5 Dec 13
    3:39 pm

  80. I feel horrified for the poor little butterflies. And for the words killed during the writing process. Is sending live animals via courier or post legal?

  81. Animal welfare
    5 Dec 13
    3:42 pm

  82. Um. Did anyone stop to think about how cruel it is to put REAL. LIVE. CREATURES. into envelopes? Awful.

  83. Corrie Sanders
    5 Dec 13
    4:24 pm

  84. This reminds me of a joke involving animals and the postal service.

    Q – What does Telstra and an Ostrich have in common?

    A – They can both stick their bills up their arse……….

    Gotta love it.

  85. Sue
    5 Dec 13
    5:22 pm

  86. “Like” Corrie Sanders……. glad I’ve never seen a spelling mistake or grammatical error in any print or online media outlet!
    This was just dumb and unfortunately will probably not be the last time someone thinks it’s a great idea to send a living creature out as a publicity stunt – but hey at least we can all jump up and down and vent on Mumbrella all over again when it happens next time.

  87. animalia
    5 Dec 13
    5:24 pm

  88. I echo all of the above. Call both the RSPCA and the RSPCG (Royal Society for the Protection of Grammar) to take action against Free’s abuse of critters, spelling and punctuation.
    Anyone who uses live animals in a PR stunt should be put in a box with no air holes and posted to Pitcairn Island. On the slowest boat.

  89. animalia
    5 Dec 13
    5:25 pm

  90. Correction: Royal Society for Protection Against Cruelty to Grammar. And Animals. That’s what happens when rage blurs your vision.

  91. animalia
    5 Dec 13
    5:27 pm

  92. Prevention of! And that’s what happens when you make fun of other people’s sloppiness. Humbled now. but my point still stands.

  93. Miss DaPoint
    5 Dec 13
    6:38 pm

  94. From an outsider not involved with this industry, this has been one of the most sickly entertaining threads I’ve read in ages and an excellent example of how appallingly badly people treat one another.

    Have you any idea how tragically petty and childish you all sound tearing someone from limb to limb for a spelling and grammar mistake? Seriously? Have you NEVER made an embarrassing spelling or grammar mistake in your career? If your answer is no, then you lie about other things too.

    As for the butterflies, go speak to the people who actually work with them day in and day out before writing these pathetically uninformed and moronic comments about cruelty to animals. Good grief. Grow up and get a grip.

  95. Roseanna Donovan
    5 Dec 13
    10:04 pm

  96. Just proves that people in p.r. can’t spell, punctuate, put a sentence together, think on a deeper level than that of a butterfly and have the (collective) memory of goldfish.

    As for Miss DaPoint, yes, it’s important that people who charge for their communications expertise do, in fact, have a grasp of English grammar, spelling and structure (or is that too ‘grown-up’)?

    You are the one who needs to calm down and get a grip. “Pathetically uninformed and moronic comments” sounds like hyperbole when most people commenting have shown a genuine and intelligent concern for living creatures being treated like postage stamps.

    Perhaps we should bundle you up and post you off somewhere to cool off in the cranky corner, Miss DaPoint, so you can think about where all this might end if nobody spoke up about it.

  97. lucio ribeiro
    6 Dec 13
    8:45 am

  98. Call me a wimp, but it breaks my heart to see someone using living animals for this kind of thing. It makes me feel beyond helpless.
    I couldn’t care less about grammar or misspelling, but anyone with enough experience and conscience would have said no to the client, it’s simply not worth.
    Hope its an example of what not to do in the future. As per the PR agency, give the guys a break.

  99. jj
    9 Dec 13
    1:23 pm

  100. As a longtime journalist/editor and environmental activist, I can’t believe the sheer stupidity and arrogance of these agencies (and more particularly the idiot clients who signed off on the idea) pulling stunts like this.

    I’m sure Vanessa Free and the others are now thrilled with the reaction they are getting from the stunt (probably being of the school who believe that any publicity is good publicity) but bet they wouldn’t be so thrilled if they got busted by any one of the relevant government departments who have laws against this sort of thing.

  101. Billy C
    9 Dec 13
    11:39 pm

  102. The strangest bit is that anyone still thinks that people still buy DVDs

  103. kk
    11 Dec 13
    3:22 pm

  104. Billy C – the DVD industry is worth $1billion in Australia… I guess there are a few people out there who still buy in little known shops called JB Hi-Fi?

  105. Alexandra Barca
    18 Dec 13
    5:14 am

  106. I can’t believe a PR firm would send a live animal. This seems to be a huge stunt, especially for television which is already a highly-promoted industry. Visuals are important in PR today, but all you need to send is a 30 second clip or screenshot from the upcoming season in an email. This is visual enough. Although the creativity from this firm is something we can strive for, I think we can find other ways (like using social media) to impress journalists.