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A Life in Journalism and PR: 7

In his book A Life in Journalism and PR, PRIA Life Fellow Geoff Holden recounts his fascinating communications career, at the same time charting the evolution of the print media, lobbying and PR industries in South Australia. In  part 7 below: Geoff strikes out on his own.

Time for a Change
By late in 1968, although I was undertaking more and more assignments and bringing in new business, my income in relative terms was far below what I was paid when I started and I became restless. We had two more children (Steven, 1963 and David, 1968) to support.

So, in July, 1969, when I was offered an account that was in conflict with one held by EWA (and in which I had no involvement), I resigned, and with Barbara’s help, formed my own consultancy. Before doing so, we sought advice from an accountant friend who asked two questions. Can Geoff get another job in PR? Answer: Probably! Can Geoff get a job in journalism? Yes! Well, he said, the decision is clear!

Barbara handled the finance administration for our business. My only difficulty was the need for an overdraft to finance the new business. I went to the Chief General Manager of the Commonwealth Bank. As mentioned earlier, the CBA was the client I was servicing for EWA. So they knew me and all of our personal banking was with them.

I was referred to a very senior bank officer who said “it’s a bad time to start a new business.” I pointed out that I already had a paying client, that I needed an overdraft of $4,000 and they had adequate security over my personal assets. He then offered me an overdraft of $2,000. I walked out in dismay.

I was referred to a very senior bank officer who said
“it’s a bad time to start a new business.”

As I stood in the street, I looked over to the corner of Currie street to The Bank of Adelaide. I knew the General Manager, Reg Nancarrow, but I knew Barrie Newman, the Public Relations Manager, far better. I walked into Barrie’s office and told him that I wanted to start my own business and that I needed an overdraft. He asked me to wait while he spoke to the General Manager. Five minutes later he came back and said “Reg said give him what he wants!”

The advantage of having good contacts, with whom one has been involved in public relations campaigns, even if not directly for the Bank!

It was only then that I revealed that my first client and the Bank shared a common chairman of directors, Sir Arthur Rymill.

Geoff Holden & Associates – the beginning
Our business started trading as Geoff Holden & Associates. During the first month I spent almost all my time learning about my client, Adelaide & Wallaroo Fertilizers Ltd. (sadly long disappeared as a result of several takeovers) so that I knew as much about its needs and issues as possible. I had negotiated a monthly fee of $300, which was a third of the amount I needed to operate an office with a secretary, and to pay myself a wage equal to that I had just given up.

I shared an office with John Jennings, who had worked at EWA for a short time, and he paid me a fee to cover his share of the expenses. (For some reason John had come in to the EWA office when I was clearing my desk and suggested the arrangement on the spot).

Our office initially was in Flinders street, on the corner of Frome street, and conveniently was above a secretarial service to which we paid a fee for answering our phones when we were out and for any major typing we required. (Both John and I were touch typists so we did not need too much.)

I was also grateful to the late Ray Glyde, a photographer with whom I had worked on several jobs. He phoned me at home on the day I left EWA and told me he wanted my work and I was not to pay until I was on my feet financially. I thanked him but said I would pay as my clients reimbursed me. He carried out much of our work until his early death.

Like me Ray was a Freemason. He took on the task of Master of the Lodge of Sportsmen even though he knew he would probably die before his year was completed. He was much admired by everybody.

In the second month, I handled a couple of small casual jobs and income jumped by about $75.

In the third month more business brought in $930, enabling me to employ a secretary. In the fourth month more permanent clients came to the business, generating an income of over $1,120 so we were set.

During the Christmas break that year, I decided to catch up with some work in the office and took a phone call from an interstate consultant, Alan Hulls.

if I was to be involved in what is now called “lobbying” and campaigns
for and against legislation, that I should first contact the relevant Minister

Alan, whom I knew as the last MD of John Hallock Pty Ltd, Sydney, when I started at EWA, had contacted the Minister of Agriculture (Ross Story MLC) on behalf of a client and had been told that if he wanted to represent his client in South Australia properly, he should contact me.

(Ross had been involved in that major 1965 legislative fight and his help as well as that of the so-called ultra conservative Ren De Garis MLC was to prove invaluable over the years.) So we gained a further client on a project which lasted for a few months.

My rule for dealing with Government
I determined early in my new business that if I was to be involved in what is now called “lobbying” and campaigns for and against legislation, that I should first contact the relevant Minister, to see whether the problem could be resolved. If so, well and good, but if not, the Minister would know there could be a campaign against his Bill. I believe this is one of the reasons why I got on so well with MPs from all sides of the political spectrum.