One Event. Two Times Listed On Advertisements. One Ass Potentially Handed To Me.
March 29, 2009 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Wow, I royally screwed up the booking of an expensive program at the public university where I work. The program's in a week. Two other parties are involved, and the only way I can halfway make this right is to lie my ass off. Help!

Long-- sorry!

As part of my (full-time, professional) job, I do activities programming on campus. After courting a local celebrity for months, I got him to agree to host an event that promises a good turnout (about 200). His fee is reasonable, but the headlining act at the event is pretty pricey.

By working in conjunction with him and the headliners, I got everything running very smoothly-- good communication, good promotion, good buzz-- until a few days ago. That's when I noticed the Really Bad Thing.

Due to an oversight on my part, promotional material that will probably bring out about 1/3 of the audience listed one start time for the event, but promo for the other 2/3 of the draw listed another start time (same date, 2 hours later). In a panic, I emailed the two parties as soon as I spotted the mistake, asking them if we could just move the time up 2 hours because of "unforeseen circumstances."

Here's where I'm stuck: I really, really need to hang on to the local celeb for future contacts and networking (the headliners are from out-of-state, and are just interested in showing up, performing at whatever time, and collecting their fee). The reason I've had to court him for months to get him to do this gig is because he's had bad experiences (at least two) with hosting activities at our school; he turned down several other invitations from me to host other events, before suggesting this one himself, so it's something that means a lot to him personally, and one that he feels will go well. All this to say that it would be very bad for him to hear that there's a wrench in the gears over a stupid misprint that was my fault.

Another catch: he's only seen the promo that will bring 1/3 of the crowd, but he probably thinks it's bringing the bulk of the audience. I'm pretty sure that if he had seen the time discrepancy, I would've heard about it from him directly.

Just got an ambiguous-sounding voicemail from him, to the effect of "Ummmm... got your email. Let's talk about this, gimme a call." Here are my options, as I see them now, along with their potentail drawbacks:

1) Just tell him what happened, and roll with it. Risk: hear myself say the words, "Despite trying my best not to be another idiot you deal with here, I made an idiotic mistake." Losing the boost he can give my reputation and success at this job. Having to explain to boss and colleagues why I can't "just call Mr. X" in the future.

2) Try to convince him that yeah, it's worth just bumping the time 2 hours (for whatever vague reason I come up with), doing my best to do the proper "Corrected Time" re-promotion, and hoping the people who show up 2 hours early will be interested enough to come back at the correct time. Risk: he finds out about the mistake I made, and my attempt to cover it up. Early people might not come back. Potential benefit: even with the slightly smaller crowd, the "later start" promo, should he discover it, will look like I did a kickass job of promoting the show after changing the time.

3) Tell him the circumstance behind my panicked email has been cleared up, and keep the original start time. Risk: 2/3 of the crowd will show up just as the performance is ending. I really, really don't like this option, and he won't either.

4) Do something insane like pay the headliners to perform twice in a row-- once with him hosting, and once without, at the times listed on both sets of promo materials. This would almost certainly get back to my boss, though, which is worse than getting back to the local celeb. And at the very least, the celeb will want to know why the hell the performance is happening twice in a row.

Any feedback would be appreciated. At this point, I just need to consider the angles of each option (and any others you might offer) to work up the nerve to just Do This Shit. Even just damage control advice would be welcome. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about contacting the people attending instead of the performers? If it was a free event advertised with flyers, take down the old ones and repost them with a noticeable "CORRECTION" on the flyer with the right time. If the audience bought tickets, contact the ticketholders with the wrong time and give them the right time. You could offer a refund if they cannot make the new time.
posted by PY at 12:44 PM on March 29, 2009 [10 favorites]

To limit the damage, limit refund requests to some point before the show (72 hrs., 48 hrs.) after giving notice of the time change as soon as possible.
posted by PY at 12:47 PM on March 29, 2009

Explain to the local celeb, and if you want, you can limit your own "exposure" by passing the buck on the blame for the mix-up. This is especially viable if he is not in contact with others at your school. The passive voice is your friend! "Hey, Big Shot. It seems mistakes were made when the fliers were printed up. Sorry about that, but from the INCREDIBLE amount of buzz this show is generating, I think the later time is better anyway!"

Option 4 sounds like the plot summary from an episode of a whacky sitcom -- like something Zack Morris or the Fresh Prince would come up with. Don't do that.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:05 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Option one is a lot less damaging in the long term than options two through four. Mr Celeb Guy finding out you fucked up won't hurt the relationship anywhere near as badly as him finding out you fucked up and then lied about it.

Just call him and explain that you missed a printing error when you were proofreading. The consequences are fairly big, but the error itself wasn't and beating yourself up over it isn't constructive. Use the phone call to mention some of the good stuff you've done that he may not be aware of. (It sounds like you've secured three times the audience he was expecting.) Make whatever concessions are necessary to get him for the new start time, then bust your ass over the other preparations. If the event itself is a success, that's the memory he's going to take away, not a printing error.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:05 PM on March 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is a university event? Harness the power of Facebook, make an event page, and prominently state the correct timing of the event. Send an additional message to everyone on the event page noting the confusion and again emphasizing the actual time. If there's already an event page, and please, if you're coordinating university events I can't imagine that there isn't one, use that. Search Facebook to check for multiple pages for the same event... I know that happens often for events I am invited to.

And be a grownup and admit the mistake. Basically everything the_latin_mouse says is right on.
posted by amelioration at 1:11 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

2/3 of the group are expecting the later time. Going with program at the later time guarantees you more audience and less legwork correcting the mistake. Own up to the celebrity that the mistake happened and that you think it's best to try to perform when the most people are expecting it. Offer to raise his fee in consideration of the schedule change. You screwed up; get him to do the 2-hours-later show time and make it worth his while.

Don't worry so much about your future career. Deal with the mess now, then be ready to go on show day and make sure it goes off well. If anything, redouble your promo efforts so that the entire world is there and you won't miss any 1/3 that got the time wrong. Do everything you can to retract the bad PR and replace it - clarify it-whatever. If you have ads on the school radio station or paper, run them again, often, with clarified time. Post flyers on bulletin boards with the correct time. If you can hit the same audience that got the 1/3 marketing, send them a correction through as direct channels as you can.

It's the celebrity's job to deal with the schedule, and your job to get the audience. It's not the audience's job to guess when the show is, and really, an unhappy audience is a much bigger and louder group of people than an unhappy celebrity, however influential. It won't be the first fuckup of his life or the last. Just explain the screwup and restate that your priority is the MOST AUDIENCE so whatever he can do to adapt, you and the audience will be most grateful.
posted by Miko at 1:12 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mr Celeb Guy finding out you fucked up won't hurt the relationship anywhere near as badly as him finding out you fucked up and then lied about it.

I agree with this. If he's a celeb, he's used to people fucking up and he's especially used to scheduling snafus and promotional imbroglios. The best thing you can do, to give him a better feeling about your university, about you, and about this event, is to be candid and upfront about it. Surely he can adjust and adapt. You will more than likely earn some serious respect by just admitting it.
posted by jayder at 1:39 PM on March 29, 2009

wow, you screwed up and now you want to cover your ass about it. I'm glad you're not working for me!

Believe me I sympathise with you. I fucking HATE EVENT PLANNING WITH THE PASSION OF A THOUSAND WHITE HOT SUNS!! I suck at it and I invariably fuck it up every time. Believe me everybody makes mistakes like that, even seasoned event planners.

It's not the mistake, it's the cover-up that is the problem. EVERY TIME. do not do this.

The only thing you can do is come clean.

Order of operations:
1) tell boss you fucked up. (Maybe you have an unreasonable boss. If that's the case you should have references and an interview lined up before hand. Even if it's shitty temp work - it's better to get your full time job while working. If your boss doesn't throw the dummy out of the pram you can keep your current job, all the better.)

2) You and boss decide what you're gonna tell celebrity. Do you have to keep earlier time or do you want to ask about later time? (Bet you your celebrity won't want to switch it, his life will be tightly scheduled and he will have childcare or something to change, so if you want to change it THIS NEEDS TO BE DONE FUCKING YESTERDAY.)

3) If he wants to keep new time, keep new time and notify the others - if he wants to keep old time, keep old time and notify others. Contact every caterer, security office, ticket holder and reconfirm time with them.

4) Have a fixed period for refunds.

5) Be uber professional and have ALL PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL DOUBLE CHECKED BY A COLLEAGUE from now on. That's what I do! :)

Why are you apprehensive about hearing yourself be an idiot? Probably you are afraid of confrontation. I promise you the fear is much worse than the actual conflictual phone call itself.

Good luck and feel free to email or memail me if I can be of any further help.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:06 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

also; this guy is not the ONLY way you can get a boost at your job. Working your ass off and doing well is the way to do that. Why did you fuck up? Tired? Stressed? Sick? work on removing these barriers and shine.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:12 PM on March 29, 2009

By the Grace of God said everything I want to say, but paraphrasing for truth:

1. I also plan lots of events for work - it sucks, there are a million little ways to eff up big.

2. Always, always, always get at least one person to check your work.

3. Don't be dumbass. Tell the truth.
posted by lunasol at 2:23 PM on March 29, 2009

Too many ways an outright lie will get discovered - and that would be worse than dealing with this now.

You probably should start by talking to your boss, tell him the mixup and give him your proposed plan to go forward. No one wants to hear about a mistake, but it's a lot easier to hear when it comes with a plan to mitigate the damage. Don't go out of your way to fall on your sword over this - yes, it's an oversight, but don't freak out over it, acknowledge it but don't be all like "I am so stupid!!"

To the local celeb - admit there are 2 advertisements with different times - apologize, spin like hell how many people are interested in the later time, and sell the change to him.

Whichever time gets picked, contact as many people in as many possible ways you can to advertise the correct time. If the local celeb goes for the later time, have people on hand at the venue at the earlier time to apologize, and offer them something to do in the meantime - drinks, snacks, something.

I know this sucks, but pull it together and pull off an awesome event. You will feel better after you start the plans in motion to fix this.
posted by KAS at 3:47 PM on March 29, 2009

What about keeping the original start time and getting one or two local acts to fill in the time until the main act starts. Or maybe just starting an hour later than the original time and having one new filler act. There is undoubtedly some local talent that will work cheap to get the exposure. Then you can justify new advertisements clarifying everything.
posted by Yorrick at 4:07 PM on March 29, 2009

Option one definitely

That's the professional thing to do.
posted by mattoxic at 4:10 PM on March 29, 2009

i'm really not sure what the problem is. there was a printing error on a flyer. it happens. what time does local celeb and headliners think the show is? that's what time the show is. end of story.

put up new flyers and a new facebook message or whatever alerting people of the CORRECT time. post it in the cafeteria, the mail room, all the places with high volume.

there is no need to tell anyone anything besides acknowledging the printing error, which is truly the only mistake.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 4:27 PM on March 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Option one, otherwise you are just being another one of the idjits he's been dealing with at that location.
posted by legotech at 7:07 PM on March 29, 2009

Everybody fucks up in a big way from time to time. Just tell people along with your plan for correcting it; it's not that big of a deal.
posted by salvia at 9:55 PM on March 29, 2009

[...]hoping the people who show up 2 hours early will be interested enough to come back at the correct time[...]

It's better to have 1/3rd of the group arrive early and kill some time than potentially have 2/3rd of the audience arrive just as the event ends. Way, way better. Hell, if it's a musical event, a third of the audience will probably be expecting it to start later than advertised, anyway.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:26 AM on March 30, 2009

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