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Tuesday / June 27.
HomeBook extractsA Life in Journalism and PR: 12

A Life in Journalism and PR: 12

In his book A Life in Journalism and PR, PRIA Life Fellow Geoff Holden recounts his career from copy boy to owner of his own PR firm. Part 12 continues with the Prime Minister’s wife, a sock striptease … and when to produce ‘rage’ for a client!

A Standing Ovation!
During the time we worked for Thomas Hardy & Sons Ltd., Tom Hardy asked me to be involved in the planning for an official luncheon in a huge cellar at the McLaren Vale winery.

The guest of honour was to be Mrs. Tamie Fraser, wife of the Australian Prime Minister. She had grown up in SA and her grandfather had been a trusted employee at the McLaren Vale winery. After her speech she was to fly to Canberra, with several politicians hitching a ride on her aircraft. I had arranged to signal people at each table for a standing ovation to be given when she was leaving. A departure time had been set.

He told me that she had been planning to stay longer,
and had needed to visit the “ladies.” After the standing ovation,
she had no choice but to leave

Right on time, she stood and I gave the signal. Everyone cheered as the Prime Minister’s wife left the cellar, accompanied by Tom Hardy. On his return, very much amused, he told me that she had been planning to stay longer, despite the politicians, and had needed to visit the “ladies.” After the standing ovation, she had no choice but to leave (for which the politicians were duly grateful as they were able to get to their meeting on time).

The Commonwealth Club of Adelaide Inc
Peter Morgan told me he had got his own back on me, some years later. He came to me in 1986 to say he was soon to be chairman of the Commonwealth Club of Adelaide, which brought noted speakers to special lunches about once a month. The then Secretary was closing his office.

The Club had a large membership, but many were Life Members, who had paid $25 for that privilege in 1974, just before extremely high inflation hit Australia. All members received printed and posted notices of meetings but the overall costs far outweighed income and the Club’s financial reserves were very low. Furthermore, the lunches were held in the Adelaide Town Hall, a costly exercise.

We reduced the mailing list by more than 300,
simplified the booking process …

Peter asked me to take over as Secretary. On reviewing the mailing list we discovered that printed notice cards in envelopes were still going to members who had died years before. The mailing list was in a disastrous condition. Many Life members had not attended meetings for years.

We drafted a letter under Peter’s signature asking Life Members whether they wished to continue to receive notices, and if they were prepared to make another financial donation to help the Club. Ordinary members, who were unfinancial, were given the option to pay or leave.

We reduced the mailing list by more than 300, simplified the booking process and received sufficient support from the Life Members to help restore the financial position.

Along with a reinvigorated committee, we eliminated the archaic practices, found a cheaper but more convenient venue (the Bradman Room at the Adelaide Oval) and brought in some excellent speakers.

A few years later, acting on advice, we invested some of our funds in Argo Investments Ltd. and Australian Foundation Investments Ltd. to provide a buffer against any future problems. I continued as Secretary until 2001 when I decided it was time to go.

Australian Podiatry Council
Earlier we had been engaged by the Australian Chiropody Council (the national body) to organise a convention in Adelaide and to demonstrate the quality of foot care services that could be provided by members.

Mens shoesThere were vast differences in legislation in different states as well as in the education of practitioners. SA and WA were relatively well off with accredited tertiary courses and reasonable legislation to monitor their activities. Victoria and NSW had private colleges with lesser standards of training. Queensland and Tasmania relied on practitioners moving from NSW or Victoria.

Their registration boards were dominated by medical practitioners whose aim seemed to be to stop any progress at all. Tasmania relied on Victoria for training but had two or three progressive chiropodists.

The editor of the Association journal (a South Australian practitioner) asked us to take over production of the journal, and to provide some advice to the National board which had its office in Adelaide with a chartered accountant as secretary.

John Pickering, the SA delegate to the board and Bill Woodhead, from WA, were quick to realise that we could help in other ways. They were especially interested in getting State governments to improve legislation controlling chiropody, and also in changing the name of the organisation to represent its improved status through tertiary education.

John Pickering was a former very successful pharmacist. After several years, he had decided he wanted a “hands on profession”. Podiatry offered that opportunity so he enrolled at the SA Institute of Technology (now UniSA) and studied chiropody. He then spent time in the United States studying and learning about podiatry, as practised there. It was far more advanced than in the UK or Australia. Bill Woodhead was also well ahead of the pack in his professional skills.

The initial problem was that the National Council was dominated by old school practitioners from the eastern states. We had little difficulty convincing the Tasmanian councillor that change was needed but until the other states agreed, we could achieve little. Finally, there was a national conference in Sydney. A keynote speaker was required. My suggestion was that my former colleague in fighting for fluoridation, Sydney based Peter Lazar, who had recently established Professional Public Relations Pty. Ltd., would make an excellent speaker. (PPR is now probably Australia’s largest PR firm.)

He sat down on a chair, undid his laces,
took his shoes off and slowly took off his socks

I briefed him on the problems of the profession but did not speak to him again until he arrived at the Chatswood Town Hall where the convention was being held.

Peter was welcomed to the podium. He sat down on a chair, undid his laces, took his shoes off and slowly took off his socks in what was almost a strip tease of the feet. There was stunned silence from the audience. Then he stood up, and said “Now that I have got that out of the way I feel we can communicate together!” There was enthusiastic applause.

He proceeded to make all the points that supported what I had already told the Council. At the end, he received a standing ovation. Later in the day, the Council resumed its meeting. John Pickering took the chair for the first time as National President and there was agreement for a name change from “Chiropody” to “Podiatry” but that was all.

The old guard still appeared to consider that there was no problem with governments or improvements to education. They still thought that no further action was necessary.

I became enraged at their “heads in the sand” attitude. I called them a bunch of wankers and told them I wanted $200 to get a report from my contact in Canberra (a special deal). This was agreed, I think to shut me up. Later in the day when I tabled the report on what politicians and appropriate public servants thought about their profession, the critics were silenced. We achieved our aim of getting approval for a major campaign but we had to get the funds from the members.

I became enraged at their “heads in the sand” attitude.

John and Bill were the only ones who knew beforehand that I was planning to stage a “rage.” They told me I did it well.

There are times when clients need to see that a consultant is deadly serious about what he or she is proposing. (It worked for me on several occasions – but knowing how the client is likely to react is essential!)

Back in Adelaide John Pickering suggested he might need some training in handling the media and difficult questions. I asked consultant Stuart Maxwell-Wright to conduct a mock interview. Our cameraman set up his equipment – but in the middle of this John Jennings came into the room and proceeded to have a flaming row with the cameraman (staged of course but John Pickering had forgotten what I had done in Sydney and was convinced it was genuine).

Stuart Maxwell-Wright then came into the room brandishing a news clipping he had uncovered. His first question was “Mr. Pickering, is it true that podiatry or chiropody or whatever you call it is a refuge for aged aunts as is claimed in the Canberra Times?” John spluttered a couple of times, settled down and answered every “hostile” question in a rational manner.

He never faltered from then on in media interviews, or in discussions with Ministers of Health and senior public servants in every State. We achieved a number of our objectives within 12 months. Part of it was raising funds for the program from members. The Podiatry Council received a letter and a substantial cheque from one of those elderly “aged aunts” who said that she would not get any benefit from what was being undertaken but she was proud to see that the profession was moving to modernise itself. This reaction and comment was repeated around Australia.

Next time… the development of West Lakes.