Burning Rosebud

Two years ago, when it looked as though the national team was about to take several medals in one of the most exciting sports ever devised by mankind, the public relations machinery at the engineering firm went into overdrive.

After all, here was a chance to publicise how the company’s technology had been used in the design and development of the very equipment that the athletes would employ to take all the gold that was going.

There was no doubt in the minds of the marketing team at the engineering outfit that they were on to a winner with the idea – after all, this was an exciting event that would capture the popular imagination of folks all over the world.

Who wouldn’t be captivated by the thought of watching an athlete race around 30m from a standing start before jumping onto a sledge before hurtling down a track at speeds of more than 100km/h?

So the marketing chaps set to work in earnest, crafting some stories that would explain in detail their engineers’ role creating the wonderful sledge whose steering was entirely controlled by the riders as they raced against the clock to shave thousandths of a second off competitors’ times.

And, for a while, things appeared to be going according to plan. As the country’s riders got ever closer to achieving their domination of the downhill event, the engineering firm basked in glory as the general public toasted its expertise as the developers of the new toboggan.

Sadly, though, it wasn’t long before a terrible disaster struck. During one of the practice runs, one of the riders had a horrible accident. After attempting to negotiate the equivalent of a three-storey-high wall, he flew off his sledge and broke several bones.

It was the end of the line – the country no longer held any hope of taking home the gold at the event. And it was the end too of the publicity campaign waged by the engineering firm, whose marketing team felt decidedly disconcerted by the whole affair.

It wasn’t long, of course, before certain members of the journalistic fraternity, having been made only too aware of the engineering company’s involvement in the sport, decided to explore whether the accident might have been caused by the design of the sledge itself. Of course, nothing ever came of the journalists’ investigation. But the adverse publicity did nothing for the reputation of the engineering company.

So, this year when the company’s management was asked if it would like to design some new equipment for an even more reckless sport that would see skydivers jump from aircraft to see who might reach the ground first, they politely, but firmly, declined.

And from what I heard, the engineers at the company then burned every sledge that was left in the place.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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