Every superhero needs an origin story – where they came from, the life events that turned them into the (super) human person they are today.
It’s the same for every PR – there’s an origin story. The thing that showed you were destined for a career in communications.
So on the day of the launch of Mearns & Pike we thought why not share ours (movie rights available on request).
I thought my origin story was going to be dull – about me blagging my way onto the Shire Health graduate scheme. But when I told a good friend of mine, James, about our new business he reminded me that I’d always been a ‘PR man’ even back at school.
So my origin story goes all the way back to 1990. It’s Red Nose Day and my friends and I have decided that in order to helping starving kids in Africa (and in an attempt to impress the female half of the school) we would spend our break times serenading girls and either get paid for our efforts or get paid to go away. The plan to make it Red Nosey was to sing into a rubber chicken. Unfortunately the local joke shop was out of rubber chickens so we had to improvise and one of the guys stopped at a local butcher on the way to school and purchased a string of sausages.
In the meantime, I had sent off some details about our escapades to the Red Nose Press Office – essentially, that was my first ever press release although I didn’t know what a press release was at the time – and they got in touch to see if we would be willing to do a breakfast interview on BBC Somerset Sound. The PR-machine kicked into gear and I spent the evening coordinating with mates and their mums to get them to the radio studio for early the next morning.
Our radio interview went well – I was nominated as the spokesperson and managed to get a few key messages across with limited nervous giggles. And we thought that was that.
Later in the day I was summoned to the Headmaster’s office. The local BBC TV planners had been in touch wanting to arrange an interview with us. The Headmaster (it was a stuffy private school) was not convinced that the publicity was a good thing – so I gave my first ‘pitch’ and with a few promises about not missing lessons etc convinced him to go for it. Next came the project plan – we needed to find a location for filming, someone to meet-and-greet the film crew, permission to bunk off some of the lesson from our teacher (the headmaster didn’t need to know this bit) and to make sure the sausages (the real talent) were well cared for.
The plan was executed perfectly and at 18:21 there was a 30 second clip of us murdering ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ on local telly with a lovely backdrop and mention of the school.
And a PR man was born (even if the girls were less impressed than hoped for).
My story is a little more political in nature and, unlike Jon’s first foray into the media, had a serious intent behind it (those of you who know me would expect nothing less!). Aged 12 I attended the local comprehensive school in the small town of Denny, somewhere roughly in the middle of the Scottish Central belt. On a particular cold, miserable day I decided that I would like to wear trousers to school rather than the standard issue black skirt. I knew this would not be approved of, and that it was pretty likely I’d get into trouble. So my lobbying began.
I got a few friends on board, some motivated by teenage feminist opinions, others by a desire to stir things up a little. Together we rallied a small group of girls to stage a short sit down protest in one of the main corridors of the school. It was quickly dissipated by the deputy head, but the movement had started. The next day we did it again, this time with more girls joining us. Then the next day we were there again, and now girls were actually coming to school in trousers. There were enough of us involved now to have safety in numbers – the establishment couldn’t punish every single one of us.
On the fourth day of our campaigning the papers came. I can’t take credit for calling them. In fact to this day I have no idea how they found out. But they came and the result was a photo on the front page of the local paper – 100 or so girls photographed outside the main school block. The following week the Scottish Sun ran the story with the headline “School girls get skirty”. Needless to say the school was not happy about the publicity, and neither was the local authority. The Director of Education informed the head teacher that in fact he had no right to prevent girls from wearing trousers and the rule was overturned.
That week I went to school wearing trousers. That deputy head who had broken up our protest on day one sent me to the head. When I walked into his office he took one look at me and sent me back to class. We had won.
So maybe that first taste of grassroots campaigning was what gave me the motivation to work in PR. Or more likely it is my natural desire to challenge injustice and inequality that makes me good at what I do. Somewhere in there that 12-year old anarchist is just dying to get out.