Geoff Holden is a Life Fellow of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, a former journalist and former PR agency head. In his book A Life in Journalism and PR he charts his career from copy boy to owner of his own PR firm. This is the third extract; we pick up the story where Geoff has returned to Adelaide and become engaged to Barbara. Catch up on the first two stories in our Book Extracts section.
Part three: Appointment as Country Editor/Police Rounds/Television
On the basis of my success in Mount Gambier, I was appointed country editor, responsible for producing a broadsheet page every day. (A broadsheet page was the equivalent of two tabloid pages on end but contained far more news and far, far smaller headings than today.) The stories contained only facts. Speculation and exaggeration were not permitted.
My shift started at 3 pm and ended when I had supervised the production of the page in hot type metal. On two occasions, my page lead stories were taken from me to become Page One leads and I had to find something to replace them in a hurry late in the evening.
Two years as country editor ended at my request when Barbara and I were married in October, 1959.
I was promised a month on day work when I returned to the office. However, I found I had been rostered to work on night police rounds (6pm to 2am) for a month. I was then transferred to the paper’s new television station as an assistant to the news editor (also seconded). The station, ADS7 (now known as Ten) had only been on air since the night that Barbara and I were married.
The training in writing for TV and supervising production helped me in my public relations career as I was able to write, direct and produce documentaries on video for clients. (The original Channel 10 and Channel 7 later changed call signs to fit in with the networks then being formed.)
Three months later I returned to the paper and another journalist took my position (it was part of the training and settling in of the new station which has not been part of “The Advertiser” group for many years).
A few months later my tenure as country editor caught up with me. I was made a sub-editor, with permanent 6pm to 2am shifts.
In those days (or nights) the chief sub-editor sat at the end of an open square-shaped table. The two local news “subs” sat on his left with the interstate news subs sitting to their right. The overseas news (or cable) sub-editors sat to the right of the chief sub with the sports subs sitting next to them.
One night about nine o’clock, when I was acting as the senior cable sub, the chief sub (Geoff Chinner) handed me back a cable from London and told me to “spike” it as it was of little interest. Around 9.30 he joined the night editor to listen to the BBC News. When he came back, he told me to take the cable off the spike and write it in our style as the Page One lead as it had been the main item on the international radio program.
Soon I was appointed make-up sub-editor, which meant that I worked with the compositors in the composing room where the pages were assembled in “formes”. It was still the era of linotype machines and hot metal. It was the room where my father had worked until his death in 1954. (Today, of course, computers have taken over and there are no more linotype operators, compositors or proof readers. Nor from the state of today’s newspapers are there many checks by the very few subeditors who remain!)
“All that training in researching, interviewing, writing,
editing … was about to be put to
far greater use than I had ever envisaged”
When a page was being assembled from a layout or dummy, the compositor would stand at one end of the “forme” in which the copy was to be assembled. I would stand at the other end and we would work together (I was not allowed to touch the type or there would have been a union walk-out). I learned to read type upside down and back to front which came in handy in later years.
On one occasion, union rules being what they were, and as there was some urgency, I was asked by the page one compositor to walk across to a machine where large headings were produced in hot metal.
He asked me to get the “comp” producing the headline to place the metal slug in my jacket pocket and for me to bring it back to him without touching it, to avoid a walk-out right on the midnight deadline for the first edition.
Everything went well, and it is the first and only time I have ever heard of a journalist carrying type metal from a “Ludlow” machine to a compositor working on a Page One “forme”.
Public Relations Job Offer
After three years of this, I found the thought frustrating that I could most likely continue to work as a sub-editor until retirement. (Some of my then colleagues did!) Our daughter, Annette, born in 1961, had to be kept quiet in the mornings so that I could sleep. This made matters difficult.
Then on October 24, 1962, (our third wedding anniversary) I received a telephone call inviting me to an interview with the Adelaide manager of the national public relations firm Eric White Associates (EWA). (I had undertaken some casual afternoon assignments interviewing opinion leaders on various subjects so I was well known to the consultancy.)
Public relations was still in its infancy in Australia and there were some poor and unscrupulous practitioners about. While many journalists at the time were suspicious of and hated public relations people, EWA was seen to be in a slightly higher class as its consultants were known to stick to the facts.
“Public relations was still in its infancy in Australia”
I went for my interview, and after an agreement on salary, went home to tell Barbara I would have a new job.
I handed in my notice to the Chief of Staff that evening. Journalists were the prime candidates for public relations in those days because they had been trained to question everything and to undertake research to ensure accuracy of their reports.
For those three months until I had finished my time, I worked in the afternoons for several days a week to learn about the industry (it is only since the late 1980s that it has really been able to call itself a profession) and to service clients served by the person I was replacing. He had been the manager of another national PR firm which had got into difficulties.
All that training in researching, interviewing, writing, editing and supervising the production of newspapers, TV and radio news was about to be put to far greater use than I had ever envisaged.
Public Relations and Eric White Associates (EWA)
Eric White Associates was a national firm started by Eric White, a former journalist, who had attracted key people to join him. Peter Golding, a former Melbourne “Argus” journalist was one of the first; Hal Myers and a host of others worked out of the Sydney office.
Melbourne was headed by Laurie Kerr, with his brother George in charge of Canberra.
Several of the major national clients were blue chip; Commonwealth Bank, TAA, AMP, and the Australian Finance and Hire Purchase Conference Limited (a lobbying group formed by financiers to improve their public standing and to gain sensible legislation in all states). Some of these clients were introduced by Eric White’s father in law, Sir Warren McDonald, a leading Australian company director.
However, Eric’s history in Canberra also helped (he had worked as an adviser to Prime Minister Robert Menzies and was a joint founder of the influential “Inside Canberra” newsletter). These clients needed a national operation with offices in all states. They were joined by many others.
EWA expanded to London and then throughout South-East Asia. It was after Eric White’s death long after I had left that organisation that most of us learned that the South East Asia expansion had been funded by ASIO and that ASIO people were listed as employees in those areas. It was no wonder that the office staffs were so large.
Eleven years after joining “The Advertiser”, and just after starting my full time in early January, 1963, the Day Editor of “The Advertiser,” Harry Plumridge, stopped me in the street, and asked how I was finding the new job. I explained that I was enjoying it and that media relations appeared to be a far smaller part of the job than I had thought. Attitude research and advising clients on their relationships with their clients and customers was paramount in the Eric White approach.
He wished me well and said that if I ever decided I wanted to return to journalism, he would personally ensure me a job. On being told that, I was extremely proud. I knew of others who had left the paper and who would never be welcomed back.
In the next extract: a phone call from Sir Thomas Playford, Premier of SA, and “Breakfast in bed with Miss World”.
Author’s note: To the best of my knowledge and ability every reference to any person living or dead, is accurate and truthful. Some events recorded in this autobiography are not in correct chronological order – Geoff Holden