In A Life in Journalism and PR, Geoff Holden recounts his career from copy boy to owner of his own PR firm, at the same time charting the evolution of the print media, lobbying and PR industries in South Australia. In part six, Geoff recalls major projects including helping to introduce car seatbelts; and the perils of pretending you know shorthand …
Fluoridation of Adelaide’s Water Supplies
My proudest achievement at EWA was conducting the campaign for the fluoridation of Adelaide’s water supplies. In fact it ranks as one of my finest achievements. The Labor Government was in power at the time.
There was not much interest in the issue from the Ministers. I drafted letters under the signature of John Irwin, the President of the Australian Dental Association (SA Branch) to the Premier, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works (water supply).
They all wrote back, suggesting it was another Minister’s responsibility. The President wanted to go to the media but I suggested another move.
I drafted a letter which was sent to Don Dunstan, a Minister in the Government, who was known to be anointed as the next Labor Premier. He was also known to be in favour of fluoridation.
We enclosed copies of the three letters from his colleagues and said we would not embarrass the Government, but that we looked forward to the time when he became Premier.
When he did take over as Premier, he opened a dental health seminar which we were conducting and announced the immediate introduction of fluoridation. If we had embarrassed the Government, it is doubtful whether fluoridation of Adelaide’s water would have been achieved so soon.
Some Other Campaigns at EWA
One afternoon John Carey called me into his office to meet a representative of the Fire & Accident Underwriters Association, which represented the major players in the general insurance industry.
His surname was Morris and he had come to Adelaide because of industry concerns over legislation the Government was planning to introduce, and which would create havoc in the industry as well as disadvantage industry customers.
He had been to Parliament House to see Sir Thomas Playford, the Leader of the Opposition, who told him to come to EWA and to see me. He then went to the SA Chamber of Manufactures and the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce (since combined) and was told the same thing. As a result we were appointed to a campaign which succeeded in meeting the industry’s needs for a few years longer while it consolidated.
While at Eric White’s I ran the SA part of a national campaign by manufacturers to introduce car seat belts as a necessary aid to road safety. This brought me into contact with road safety education, and I was to spend many years involved in that necessary activity.
Castrol Oil Ltd.
Nationally Eric White’s were asked to do some major research for AMOCO, a fuel company that later ceased to operate in Australia. AMOCO decided not to proceed with the programme developed by the late Michael Jennings, of EWA (no relation to the Jennings with whom I was associated) but they were very impressed with what had been suggested.
Around Australia, we established the Castrol Safety Drive,
a competition with off road skills events and open road driving.
They passed our report on to Castrol Limited, and as a result we were appointed nationally to handle their account.
Castrol (or C. C. Wakefield as it was originally known) was a pioneer in lubricating oils in England and Castrol oils (originally based on Castor Oil) were the preferred lubricants for early motor sport enthusiasts and aircraft manufacturers.
However, by the early 1960s the quality of their motor oils was largely unknown by younger motorists, particularly the under 25s and it was our task to change this so that they would specify Castrol lubricants for their vehicles.
I went with a Castrol representative to a number of outlets
where Castrol products were stored in unmarked barrels
Around Australia, we established the Castrol Safety Drive, a competition with off road skills events and open road driving. In SA we conducted the finals at the Torrens Parade Ground after a road event in which competitors moves were monitored by officials from the Confederation of Motor Sports and their affiliated clubs, SA Police (we even had a concealed speed trap outside a hills town), the RAA and Road Safety experts. We had preliminary events at Mount Gambier, Broken Hill and Arndale shopping centre, Kilkenny.
I organised joint sponsorship with “The News” (my brother, Roger, had not yet returned to Australia at that stage) and I was the general coordinator. The programme was highly successful during the three years I conducted it, and our format became the model for other states.
Shell Oil and BP loathed Castrol because its oils were superior and threatened their dealers with the loss of fuel and oil if they were found to be stocking and using Castrol products. (At that time there were still many independent fuel outlets.) However, while undertaking research, I went with a Castrol representative to a number of outlets where Castrol products were stored in unmarked barrels so the dealers could supply Castrol oils to those who requested them.
One of my neighbours at that time was the Marketing Manager for Shell, and I had pleasure in cleaning and displaying the Castrol Safety Drive banners on my front lawn to stir him. He told me he actually admired what we were doing for Castrol.
A few years later, Castrol, Shell and BP were united in one world wide conglomerate, and he volunteered to help with the Drive (that was about the time I resigned from EWA so I never took him up on his offer).
The Adelaide Sales Manager for Castrol, Max Roberts later became the CEO of that conglomerate and moved to London. On one occasion, at a conference we held in Castrol’s Birkenhead office, before he moved to higher and better positions, Max was waffling on about something he considered would be a good PR point. I knew it was not but to give an illusion that I was really interested, I doodled on my note pad, using meaningless shorthand strokes. Max woke up to what I was doing and challenged me.
That was when I discovered he also had Pitman’s shorthand skills. I had to come clean and tell him that his suggestion was not going to work – and fortunately, he accepted it. It was a valuable lesson for me!
Read more about the South Australia’s early PR industry in the next extract, published next week …