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Ted: Uh-Oh...You Made the Front Page

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By Ted Kruckel

Timing is everything, it's true, and sometimes that does not work in your favor. I was reminded of this just the other day as an invitation for a bridal fair hosted by Martha Stewart Weddings magazine arrived right smack in the middle of Ms. Stewart's trial. Set for late April, the event will come after her fate has been sealed, and it's certainly possible that she'll be on hand, calmly demonstrating how to apply marzipan fruit to a wedding cake.

But what if the scales of justice tilt the other way? For starters, just think of all the bad jokes. ("Make Martha smile—bake in a file!") Every guest will want to make at least one. And some people will probably pull out-old-fashioned types who don't want to do business with a convicted felon.

Sometimes your event or party can come under media scrutiny for reasons you didn't expect. During New York's recent Fashion Week, Louis Vuitton opened the doors on a new U.S. store and celebrated an important anniversary at the same time. But two days before the ribbon was cut, a full-length feature in The Wall Street Journal aired designer Marc Jacobs' grievances (in short, he thinks they've been tightwads when it comes to supporting his line). So at the multimillion-dollar shindig (with décor barged in from New Zealand), everyone was whispering, "Will he even show up?"

Once I arrived at Sotheby's for an event I was handling and was so pleased to see that more media than I had expected had turned up for a British furniture auction. We even had to set up barricades. Turns out that the auction house's former chairman, Alfred Taubman, had been sentenced that day, and camera crews were just looking for sound bites for that evening's news ("Did you know that the auction house you are now entering was engaged in price fixing?"). Oh well.

But since the show must go on, here are some handy tips for dealing with unwanted news on the eve of your big event.

YOUR HEADLINER CANCELS (SORRY!): Book somebody better. When Travel & Leisure lost Eartha Kitt as a performer for their elaborate event aboard the newly christened QE2 (a storm kept the ship at sea, delaying the event), with just 48 hours notice, they came up with Carly Simon.

LOOK, UP IN THE SKY, IT'S A HURRICANE: For Bill Blass' final fashion show in the 7th on Sixth tents, Hurricane Floyd threatened to literally topple the affair, stealing the headlines from his final bow. The event producers' answer? "Take your seats, we're starting." The show came off perfectly, hardly anyone noticed the rain dripping on the runway, and after the show everyone got the hell outta there.

ROSIE SHOWS: No one can hijack an event like the increasingly erratic Rosie O'Donnell. (Witness her recent courthouse M&M distribution.) Once at the Four Seasons restaurant for Newsweek, she didn't like the photographers pushing so she pushed back...hard. It won't be on message, but if you want media, invite her.

THE LIGHTS GO OUT: At the Golden Globes, so many parties descend on the Beverly Hilton that power outages are inevitable. The Warner Brothers/In Styleplanners learned their lesson the first time after celebs fled and the gossip press had a field day. Now they keep an acoustic music option (think drums, think rhythm) and tons of candles on hand, so if the power goes, no one else does.

STARS BEHAVE BADLY: Mike Tyson gropes, Naomi Campbell hisses, Sharon Stone grabs the goods and Kiefer Sutherland takes a swing—what to do when a V.I.P. behaves like a big baby? Relax, it's not your fault, so just point the cameras and enjoy. Later you can always claim they weren't even invited.

YOUR TEAM LOSES: You know the story: One locker room is spraying champagne while the other side quickly gets dressed. But how do you plan for that? Dring the annual National Magazine awards, recently deceased GQ editor in chief Art Cooper used to set up a whole catering station in his office. If the magazine won, he invited everyone back to celebrate and wheeled it on out. If not, he simply closed the door.

NOBODY SHOWS: Ugh. There is nothing worse than not having enough people show up. Time stands still. And the same waiter keeps offering you a salmon roll-up. If you sense R.S.V.P.'s aren't what they should be, order some potted palms for the room perimeter. Then slowly keep moving them in, so guests think it is filling up. Also, tell the waiter to change trays.

IT'S A MOB SCENE (AND NOT THE SOPRANOS PREMIERE PARTY): If a nasty news story makes everyone curious about your event—everybody likes a train wreck, right?—you might have a packed house. And it's a fine line between a raging success and The Day of the Locust. There is absolutely nothing worse than turning away invited guests. Allure magazine once had their numbers swell from 900 to 1,600 in a day. Cindy Crawford had to be helped out by a police cordon. Their solution was to take over the street and the bar next door. And when the hordes descend, forget food—just keep the drinks coming.

Posted 03.03.04

Columnist Ted Kruckel is an experienced and opinionated former event and PR pro who ran events for 20 years for high-profile clients like Vanity Fair, Elle Decor, Christian Dior and Carolina Herrera. He shuttered his firm, Ted Inc., in 2003. You can email him at [email protected].

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