Friday, 17 April 2015

Fáilte Ireland: Welcoming everything but my ideas...

No one's asked me about Fáilte Ireland's recent announcement of their Ireland's Ancient East tourism initiative but someone's bound to sooner or later and all of the sordid details of how I originally pitched ideas for the campaign are going to come out.
So I'm going to preempt all of your questions and just lay it out: Yes, in the early development stages I was asked to present some ideas on what should go into the campaign to make the east-ish region of this island as appealing the that broad west part.
It's not unusual for them to solicit ideas from outside parties, a quick walk-through of their office reveals many 'idea boards' - most of which are either blank, or contain pictures of Pierce Brosnan in his 'Remmington Steele' days with no text or explanation - so they can be pretty desperate.

No, not desperate enough for me, they didn't end up using my pitch but if you look closely some elements of what they have put out part look very familiar.

Even though it was a while ago, the details are still fresh in my mind. I remember the smell of coffee that hung in the air, the 'idea board' in the conference room featuring on the word "coddle" on a printed A4 page; I remember their confidence in bringing me in to help, and I remember destroying that confidence like cat walking along a bookshelf, idly bringing everything crashing down in my wake.

I started by introducing myself then jumped right into my prepared PowerPoint presentation. I opened the first slide, then took a large egg from my bag. It was large, just smaller than my head, but remarkably light.
"This is no ordinary egg, members of the board. Or maybe it is. Or maybe I should ask you, what is an ordinary egg?"
They muttered unto themselves for a moment, looking at the egg, then arching their necks to look around me as if my introductory slide would answer this.
"It's something a bird lays?" one of them ventured.
"Or a fish?" Another man added confidently.
"Or a frog!" A voice at the back blurted out, as if they had suddenly decided to one-up each other.
"Crocodiles!" Someone else shouted.
I knew I had to reel this in, they were getting carried away.
"I'll tell yo-"
"Platypus!" Another voice cried out. "A platypus lays eggs. It's the only mammal that does."
I spotted the man who said it proudly folding his arms and reclining in his chair. The crowd muttered loudly, I heard them mention several different kinds of dinosaur and some spiders.
None of these suggestions really had anything to do with my PowerPoint presentation so I quickly clicked past the first slide or two, worried that any other attempt to engage them would end just as badly.

"Ok, we're way off track already- I'll tell you: An egg is a vessel, a vessel that can carry life and encapsulate potential. An ordinary egg can contain extraordinary ideas, such as the idea that the east of Ireland can capture the imagination of the world just like the Wild Atlantic Way of the west. And it also carries the life of that most elusive of creature: the griffin!"

Boom! Just audible over the silence of the room was a tiny pop as their minds were blown.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: The Beastly East!"

I clicked to the next slide in the presentation, a crude mock-up of the phrase. The 'B' made to look like the head and torso of a monster, eating a person, the letters 'eastly' scratched into the leg, the last piece being shoved into the monstrous 'B's mouth.

I let the visual sink in.

"When you think of Ireland, you think of the rich history and folklore of the country - the stories, the yarns, tall legends. Cú Chulainn, basically Hercules with red hair. The Children of Lír, werewolves that turn into birds... were-swans. Kelpie, the sea-horse who carried passengers to a watery grave!"

"Was that last one Irish?" A man at the front turned to ask the woman beside him.
She shrugged, went to mumble a response but spotted my fiery gaze locked onto her and went quiet. The man turned back to me.
I stared at him a moment longer, then launched back to my presentation.

"The intensity that I'm staring at you with now is the intensity you should look at these brochure with. Here you'll see my plans for the whole east region. I'll give you a moment to take those in."

And take them in they did, before I took them on a wild ride through my plans. The rest of the presentation went fairly well, a few minor stumbles, but nothing I couldn't talk my way around. It's when I got to the Q & A at the end that things really fell apart though.

I stood against the backdrop of my last slide which read: 'The Beastly East of Ireland. Now that is wild!' waiting for questions.

"Can you elaborate on" the man looked at the brochure to reassure himself that what he was reading was real "the MantiCork?"

The tone of the question seemed both genuine and dismissive.

"Why yes, that's a creature with a lion's body, bat wings, and a human head which I plan to release in Cork. Kerry might have 'King Puck', but Cork will have a real live manticore!"

"When you say 'real' though...?" He tilted his sneery head, as if he'd won some argument without even needing to say a complete sentence.

"When I say 'real' I mean 'real'."

"A manticore is a mythical beast, where would you get one?"

"Oh, I have my ways. Trust me, we don't even keep puppy farms in check in this country, do you really think it's gonna be so hard to find a manticore dealer? F**k's sake, I walked into this room today with a griffin egg and none of you batted an eyelid."

"About that..." A woman leaned forward, pausing for a long time, harvesting the residual sneer from the previous man's question into her own sneer. Perhaps she fooled herself into thinking she could win an argument without even needing to start a sentence. I didn't take the bait, I just stared back at her.

She leaned back in her chair, "You say you have a griffin egg?"

"You can see that I have a griffin egg."

"A griffin? A creature with the head and wings of an eagle, and the body of a lion?"

"That's the one."

"Why would a creature with the body of a lion lay an egg?" She sat even further back in her chair, emphasizing how much she was looking down her nose at me.

"Why wouldn't it?" I asked.

"Well, if it has the body of a lion then it follows suit that it should have a similar anatomy, so it should have a regular separate birthing canal and *ahem* bowel evacuation regions."

"Regular? That's a bit species-ist against creatures with a cloaca, isn't it? And why couldn't a griffin have one, and lay an egg? Yes, the exterior lower body is shaped like a lion, but if the head and brain are part bird then some of the unconscious mechanism could be like a bird, and some of the internal organs could be avian in nature too."

"That's a bit of a stretch, isn't it?"

"The only stretch here is in the region this egg got squeezed out of!"
I held the egg up for effect, then held out one hand with my thumb and forefinger touching, before pushing the narrow end of the egg through the space between them, separating my fingers and rolling them across the surface until the egg was held above this hand.

"Smooth sailing." I said "And I wouldn't be saying that if a beak or claws had just scraped through my hand."

"This is a risky initiative, I know. You run a risk with this campaign or without this campaign. But I promise you, the only risk associated with releasing a half bird half lion in Ireland is that some farmer's going to shoot it or lay out poisoned pigeons to try murder it. Or you run the risk that the Kraken you release might destroy boats leaving Rosslare or move down to Cork and eat Fungi... or whichever dolphin they're calling Fungi this time, am I right? Trust me, Ireland's Beastly East will work. You can't play it safe forever.
Any further questions?"

The group stared at me.

"No one wants to know more about the Chupacabra of Clonmacnoise? No one wants to know why I crossed out 'Tara' and wrote 'Hill of Terror'?"

The WiCthulhu Way spoke for itself, so I flicked back to the slide as a talking point.
I couldn't fool myself though; I knew that somehow I'd lost them. We said our goodbyes, and a day later they phoned to tell me that they'd decided to go in a different direction.

When I saw that "Ireland's Ancient East" was what they went with, yes I was a little bitter. Elements seem to have been borrowed from my pitch, other parts where cast aside in favour of more relevant stories for places; I suppose it was probably just cheaper to re-hash the same old stories from the same old places than to nurse a manticore or griffin until it was old enough to be released into the wild.

Still, that was it.
Fáilte Ireland haven't asked me back since, and I doubt I'll hear from them.
As with all losing bids I think I'm expected to say that I appreciated the opportunity to take part and present my ideas, but since I got nothing out of it - not even some stale danishes to feed this rapidly growing griffin - I think I'm ok with just leaving it there, learning nothing from the experience, and just moving on.

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