GBH, Eurostar and a 35-step press kit nightmare

Everyone has one of those projects where everything that can go wrong, does. For GBH, it involved 400 music boxes, Eurostar and a last-minute cross-channel dash.

Sometimes projects cause stress due to timings, scale or budget. But every now and then it’s just a series of mundane, mini disasters that push us closer and closer to the edge.

Eurostar briefed us (write GBH) to design and produce 1,000 A4 press packs to launch a £30 million rebrand and facelift of trains, lounges and stations. The packs were invitations to press events happening simultaneously in London and Paris.

We proposed a music box – a flock-covered classic music box housing a detail-filled hardback book and a miniature businessman revolving in a Philippe Starck designed Eurostar business chair (replacing a conventional ballerina). We had four weeks to make it happen. What could possibly go wrong?

1. GBH suggest making only 100 boxes due to the complexity and expense sending only to the most desirable publications. We proposed 900 extra books not in a box for wider use.

2. Eurostar decide upon 400 boxes, split between English and French, and 600 extra books not in boxes.

3. After a little back and forth we shake hands on 300 in total and 700 extra books—we have very little time and the boxes must be handmade. We employ a printer to make the cloth-backed books and a bookbinder to make the boxes believing it’ll be quicker, separately.

4. Having developed the design and had sign-off we order the fabric (Light Grey 2). Days later we hear that there is “not enough of the colour left in the UK” . We split what there is between printer and bookbinder so they can start and find a French supplier who has some in stock they can sell us. It should only take two days.

5. After four days no cloth has arrived. Our French supplier has sent the cloth to the wrong depot. We try to recover the cloth but discover the courier has gone bankrupt. The cloth is impounded by French authorities.

6. We pay again for more of the same. They send it again but it takes another two days to arrive.

7. The cloth arrives, but it’s a slightly different grey colour.

8. The cloth suppliers in France say it is definitely Light Grey 2. We say it isn’t. They say it is, and it all gets a bit awkward.

9. We call the manufacturers who turn out to be in the UK. Eventually they admit that they changed the colour of Light Grey 2. It’s now darker than it was before.

10. They confirm there is none of the “old” colour available anywhere, but they don’t have any of either in the UK at the moment.

11. We make a third order of the new Light Grey 2 from the French supplier. (The darker one). Are you’re keeping up?

12. OK, so we have some books and boxes in the lighter grey. Snap.

13. We plan to make some darker books and darker boxes. We post-rationalise that the darker ones are French and the lighter are English language. Secretly we’re hurting inside.

14. A sample book turns up in the light grey with silver foil blocking. It’s lovely. However, it’s about 15 millimetres too wide to fit inside its box.

15. We call the bookbinders who say all of the boxes are made. We call the printers and they’ve already made up 1,000 covers (at the larger size) because they were running out of time.

16. We hear the French press launch is put back by one week. Hallelujah! We’ve now enough time to make up a new 150 books at the correct size to fit in the box, and remake the 150 French versions.

17. The boxes are light grey and the new books are darker grey but we can close the lid now. We tell ourselves that the two-tone grey looks deliberate. Inside we are hurting even more.

18. The sample model of the plastic businessman in Starck chair arrives. This is to be the model that revolves when the lid is lifted and the music plays. It’s 20 per cent too large. We send it back to the model-maker.

19. Meanwhile the clockwork mechanisms that will chime out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” while the plastic businessman rotates in his chair, have not arrived yet. It transpires they have been impounded by customs in Hong Kong. Their release date is beyond our deadline.

20. Using a mix of diplomacy and bribery, the mechanisms are released by customs and arrive at GBH by special courier a few days later. However the mechanisms in the box are not identical to the sample as the screws to hold it in place are thinner. The bookbinder has drilled larger holes in all the boxes to prepare and now the mechanisms are wobbly.

21. The spring we are going to attach our models to have a strange plastic shape moulded to the end of them, which has to be cut and scraped off by hand. It takes three of us all day to do 150.

22. The spring is shorter than the early sample and it is much more ‘springy’. When the model is attached and the lid put down, the lid springs itself open.

23. We peel off part of the box lid lining and glue in lead to keep the lid closed. This makes the box heavier and creates a higher postage cost. We are half way through now. Just the French language boxes to finish.

24. Having charged £1,000 to make the first 150 models our model-maker tells us calmly, five days before the deadline, that he won’t be honouring our contract to make the second batch. “Much too fiddly”, he explains.

25. We are forced to throw money at the problem and eventually agree on nearly £9,000 to make the remaining 150 figures. That’s £59 per two-inch-tall plastic figure!

26. We receive a call with only four days to the delivery deadline,
telling is it’s going to take ten at least days to finish the job.

27. With very little option (other than declare a “Force Majeur” we decide to sack the model-maker and find a new one.

28. Incredibly, we find someone new, for less money. They can finish the job in three days.

29. The second lot of boxes are finished and we wait for their French language books.

30. The French books arrive at the larger size and won’t fit in the boxes. Again.

31. All other correct size books have been foil-blocked with English. Printers work through the night to try and make more French books as we must put 150 on the Eurostar to Paris the next day.

32. No books by morning. 15 copiesarrive at lunchtime. More trickle in during the afternoon. We decide that the 7.00pm train is the last one before it’s too late. We miss the 7.00pm train.

33. Couriers won’t guarantee an early delivery to Paris at this time. By 11.00pm we are in despair. The final books arrive at our studio, as if mocking us, at 11.59pm.

34. We decide to deliver the books ourselves. We pile all the boxes into a little hatch-back and drive to Calais via EuroTunnel. We cross the channel at 3.00am and arrive at Gare du Nord in Paris at just after 7.30am.

35. We just make it

The above is an extract from Charm, Belligerence & Perversity. The Incomplete Works of GBH, published by Black Dog Publishing, £29.95. See more of GBH’s work here

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