I knew Bec Wilson for about 15 years. Here’s what passes for a tribute to a very special person.

bec_wilson_2

Rebecca Wilson died today.

Jesus that’s a tough line to write. Bec the indomitable, Bec the invincible, Bec the inscrutable.

People throw around phrases like larger than life too readily but our Bec, rather than living large in the sense of reckless abandon or over indulgence, she lived large in truth.

Bec had her artifice and fakery DNA removed at birth and I think in its place was put the finest bullshit detector Australia has ever seen. She seemed actually incapable of saying the “right” thing at the apparently “right” time. She was gloriously incorrect whilst so often actually being correct. Many people saw Bec as a hater – someone who wanted to tear things down, to rip into people and places but they couldn’t be more wrong. Bec was not a hater, she was a lover. She LOVED good people and great endeavour, most especially of course in the sporting world. She didn’t enjoy sport she revelled in it. Those GREAT sports people in Australia, and they and we in our hearts know who they are, loved and were loved by Bec. Ask Freeman, ask Goodes, ask Boyle, ask Tallis – just don’t ask the fakers, the dribblers, the gibberers or the urgers. They loathed her because she shone a light on their fakery, their pretence, their manifest dishonesty. She made mistakes, bloody heaps of them, but they were most often made with good intentions. She made enemies; I said a week ago that if you didn’t have at least one good feud with Bec you just weren’t trying hard enough.

But she had love – real unadulterated, genuine, deep love for people and that’s why racists and charlatans and crooks just got her so bloody mad. They were taking the spotlight from the good guys, the guys (and more importantly the girls) who fought and tried and were honest and decent.

And that’s who she was. To beat around the bush was as foreign an idea to Bec as it was to drink anything other than chardonnay (“Why WOULD I Stu? It’s chardonnay”).

I once, on radio, tried to explain to her what chardonnay actually WAS, a grape variety, it made for some of the most hilarious radio I’ve ever been a part of – she simply couldn’t have cared less; “But how GOOD is it Stuey? How good?”

The woman knew how to encourage – just ask her boys or Harto or anyone who was close to her. If you were doing well or even trying hard you would hear that “Go You” ringing in your ears.

I made a wine Bec; “Go you Stuey”, I wrote a book; “Go you good thing”. I had a baby Bec; “Go you, Go Sal”.

Bec Wilson tried every day to be true to herself and her family and her beloved trade of journalism. Her old man Bruce had been such an incredible journo and such a beacon for young upstart journos at News Ltd like me, and then along came his incredible, loud, opinionated, brash, hilarious, gutsy daughter. And she didn’t just do him proud, she built an even greater legacy to that family name.

God I loved being around Bec Wilson – you would gossip, laugh, hear things you just couldn’t believe were being said, drink chardonnay and more especially feel alive, feel like you’d just spent a few hours with a human tornado.

It’s profoundly sad of course and especially for Harto, the boys, her mum and Jim, but to say she lived a life well would be gross understatement. Bec Wilson was a proper, fearless woman who was a wonderful friend and an epic loss to all of us. And she really did forge a path.

We love you Bec Wilson: Go You.

 

 

Farewell you legend – an obit to a genius. David Grant AM

david grantThis week a brutal brain tumor took the life of a bloke I was incredibly proud to call a mate. Not just any bloke – quite simply the most creative, most hilarious, most entertaining bloke I’ve ever met. I’ve not known DG as long as many, which is strange, cos we grew up in the same suburb, but I know he had literally thousands of great mates, admirers and just randoms who couldn’t quite believe he said what they just heard . . .

Like many, I genuinely loved DG; being around him was like being in a better, funnier, smarter orbit. I’ve not met anyone who shone so bright, dreamt so big and lived so large.

Last year he was inducted into the Events Industry’s Hall of Fame and his great mate of 30+ years, the indomitable Prue Macsween, delivered a heartfelt and brilliant introduction. Prue and I used this as the base for an obituary that will appear in the Sydney Morning Herald. It may get a bit of an edit, so just in case it does, here it is in its unexpurgated form.

David Grant – event producer, creative director.

David Grant was probably Australia’s greatest event producer and quite possibly the best the world has seen. A restless, quick-witted, incisive, creative and ruthlessly funny individual, David passed away Monday December 14 from a brain tumor. He was 55.

David grew up in Killarney Heights on Sydney’s northern beaches in a family of ordinary means.  His work took him into the world of kings, queens, presidents and billionaires.

In 1985, he set up a portable office in his shabby electric blue Ford Laser and began organising events – any event in the beginning – and very major events at the end.

His events were, and remain, the creative benchmarks for a very competitive industry.

His parties on the social calendar were mad, bad, stylish, daring, beautiful and simply like no other – the Cointreau Ball, which he produced for nine of its 11 year existence, became legendary in the Australian party world.

Cointreau ‘Dita Von Teese’ Ball

A shot of the famous Cointreau Ball

He ignored every rule and regulation, or had them rewritten. He disdained authority, avoided the everyday and throughout his career created moments of great magic and often poetry, of unrivalled style, fun and glamour.

No challenge was ever too hard (he burnt down a Port Douglas sugarcane field four times a year for inbound US incentive winners), and even though the industry at that time didn’t have the myriad suppliers you could call on to help today, he somehow just made things pop out of thin air.

He bought the first truly portable kitchen for the first large-scale offsite event, sewed the first chair cover, ordered the first all-clear marquee, bought the first fairylights, – prosaic and passe now, but revolutionary then – and he convinced one-man-band technical operators, chefs, florists, entertainers, you name it, that perhaps there was a proper living to be made from this seemingly crazy world of events

He was first to illuminate an Australian city when he lit nine buildings including the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Centrepoint Tower blue for a perfume launch in 1990.

He was the first known person to put dodgem cars in a ballroom, he created a white water rafting track for an underwater party in a six-storey car park.  He was the first to have a party on a floating pontoon, in a sewer, on a beach, in a jail. . .

For 30 years his exceptional work continued for the most discerning clients in the arts, media, fashion, luxury, finance, sport, and political worlds.

His unflagging sense of humour, even in the scariest adversity, is legendary. When he produced a series of events for President Clinton’s official visit to Sydney in 1996, he was ordered to play the official Presidential anthem, “Hail to the Chief” on Clinton’s arrival during the worldwide CNN broadcast at the Botanical Gardens Fleet Steps.

But instead, to the horror of the White House and the Australian Government, he took it upon himself to play Clinton’s favourite song, the big band swing classic,  “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Bill and Hillary laughed, and entered the event on live international TV with a smiling energy lacking until that moment. Yet again DG, as he was known, had turned a good event into something truly unforgettable.

At the lightening quick handshake farewell, post the event, Clinton, when introduced to Grant as the producer, quipped “ahh you’re that crazy guy, thank the Lord, you made my day, I love Australians”. Not unsurprisingly, David never worked again for the Prime Minister’s Department – their loss.
Where David was famous and completely legendary was in the world of the Summer and Winter Olympics. He produced events, corporate hospitality marquees on an almost mythical scale, presentations and famously, played a huge part in Australia’s winning pitch for the 2000 Olympics.

For 10 consecutive Winter and Summer Olympics, David’s events were regularly the highlight of the Games, for those lucky enough to secure an invite. During the Sydney Olympics his renowned capacity for hard work and flawless quality saw him produce 320 events across 17 days in 12 different locations.

Former IOC President Samaranch once famously said in the lead-up to the Athens Olympics; “call Lord Grant, he’s the only person after Stalin who could possibly fix this mess you’ve got us into”.

In the USA, where he did much of his best, big budget creative work, he was a legend.

The creative director for Sports Illustrated in New York once said; “How does that crazy motherf***er think up that undoable shit and then make it 10 times better than we ever thought possible and we’re supposed to be party central?”.

We all wondered the same thing at various times.

David won more than 35 industry awards including Meeting and Events Australia’s “Australian Event Organiser of the Year” a record 10 times and he was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2005 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for services to the events industry and the Olympic movement.

Many claim to be “unique” characters, but David was, quite simply irrepressible, irreplaceable and at times desperately irresponsible. He was also the most hilarious person in Sydney, and quite possibly the most inappropriate.

Over the years he appeared plenty of times on TV on everything from The Block to the Chopping Block where he famously quipped that a restaurant he was reviewing “had all the charm and sense of welcoming of the waiting room at the Villawood Detention Centre”.

David gave back to the industry by constantly taking time to speak at industry events, obscure educational facilities, to the random people who rang for advice weekly  – to friends, competitors, anyone.

He suffered five hernias, one back rebuild, a knee reconstruction and various other war wounds from his “hands on” way of doing business but he could not beat a devastating brain tumor diagnosed early in 2015.

David is survived by his wife Katerina, parents Bill and Maggie,  brothers Michael and Peter, first wife Lisa and sons Seigfried, Max, Jack and Lewis.

A celebration of David’s life, hopefully attended by plenty of his mates, will be held in Sydney in mid-late January. Please keep an eye on Facebook and other media for details.

Oh, and it’d want to be a bloody good party . . . DG would expect nothing less.

Prue MacSween and Stuart Gregor have worked in the public relations business for a combined 50+ years.

Life Lessons Learned from the Back of a Taxi

GUEST POST:

 By Jemma Lee (Senior Account Director at Liquid Ideas) and Jennifer Bailey (Account Manager at Liquid Ideas)

At Liquid Ideas, we have this philosophy that we have in creds decks and write on walls and say in presentations – have your eyes up and your ears open. Our inspiration comes from the hospitality world… the intuitive sommelier, warm customer service and your favourite waiter at the local Italian joint. And last week, we had an experience that reminded us why having your eyes up and your ears open can get you far more than a good tip.

It was a cold, overcast Friday morning, we’re standing on O’Riordan Street trying to hail a cab. It takes an unusually long time. Plenty drive by, none stop. We’re getting a bit pissed off. A taxi finally slows. We exchange quips about it being the most banged-up taxi to drive past yet. We get in. And shit, are we glad we did. With our ears open, this guy changed our day and enlightened us more about life and people in that 25 minutes than had happened in probably the entire year. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.

“How’s your day going?” we ask. Taxi etiquette. “I never have bad days,” he replied. Right. “How’s yours?”

“Not bad I guess. Had training this morning. Now just at work.”

“Training hey? So you pump some iron. But have you been doing your character pushups?”

I’m sorry – what? Character pushups? WTF?

It’s exactly that. Working on your character. “Six packs disappear,” he said. “Your character doesn’t.”

We are both inquisitive, interested types, and we perked up then. Some small talk was exchanged initially and then before we knew it, we were completely absorbed in what was the most philosophical and provocative conversation we’d had in a long time.

The man had a vocabulary that rivalled William Blake and poetic rhythm to his soliloquies – everything came in threes or fours – lulling us into backseat awe. And so for no other reason than wanting to capture the enormity and eloquence of his wisdom so as to not let it fade, we wrote down what we could remember from this fascinating man.

Have a fertile mind

He said he had an opinion on everything, but that he never wanted to stop learning – that his opinion could always be changed, altered, built upon. A ‘fertile mind’ – that’s what he called it.

Strive not to be loved, but to love

True fulfillment is loving someone, not being loved. As humans, we spend our lives wanting someone to love us but in truth, happiness and fulfillment comes only from giving our love to someone else, unconditionally.

Stand for something

Stay true to what you believe in, whatever that is. If you believe in nothing, you defend nothing. Navigate by your own star. Be the master of your own fate, the emperor of your own freedom. If you are the captain of the freedom of your mind, no one can ever take that away from you. For at the end of it all, all we have is our principles. No material things, no companions, just the principles which we choose to live by.

Lamenting the absence of seminal

There are almost no seminal thoughts anymore, he said. Four million people go home on a Monday night and sit on their couch watching a chicken get roasted on TV or watch an 18 year old sing Hallelujah to have someone cry for the fortieth time – “A Star is born!”. Is this living?

Four words to live by

Avuncular, didactic, acrobatic and elastic. That’s what you should strive to be. Be an avuncular and didactic human, with acrobatic and elastic thoughts and feelings.

He left us with this – “The bigger the island of knowledge, the wider the shores of wonder.”

And that was that. We paid our fare, stepped out of the cab onto the busy CBD footpath and were immediately swept back up into our world of client meetings, phone calls, planning, excel sheets and deadlines.

How incredibly lucky we were to have spent 25 minutes of our day being enlightened and encouraged by this complete stranger. And all we can think is how many people get in his taxi and miss out on all of that.

Eyes up ears open people, you never know when Gregory David Roberts* is driving your cab.

*at least, we’re 99% sure it was him…

Stu’s First Film Review: The Best Movie of the Decade…and Birdman

This blog has never featured a movie review.

Well, I’m about to write two. Why have a blog at all if you can’t indulge in the things you secretly think you’ve always been a bit awesome at? I have always thought I’d be an awesome film reviewer, maybe we all do. But I especially have thought I possess superior gifts of film analysis. Which is strange because I don’t actually see a lot of films. I’m not a guy who goes and catches the latest Scandy dramas or art house classics, or even the dodgy blockbusters. Hell, I haven’t even seen Casablanca or any of the Godfathers. So I might actually be a cruddy reviewer cos I can’t contextualise … But who cares. My blog.

So I’m writing this in a place where I do in fact watch most of my movies. On board a plane. And just now I have watched the best movie I’ve seen in a decade. And then I watched Birdman.

The best movie I’ve seen in a decade (probably longer) is called Ex Machina. It’s written and directed by a bloke I’ve never heard of (Alex Garland) and stars absolutely no one. Well that’s not true. It stars actors, not stars.

And it’s absolutely f***ing brilliant. I seriously can’t put it any other way – and I know by being sweary I will be in trouble with my wife and my kids will snigger but this movie deserves the ultimate approbation. A simple premise about artificial intelligence, an almost paralysingly brilliant script and the most magnificently tense anxiety-inducing direction. This is a film that restores your belief in film. I’ve no idea if it has won or will win any awards. But it wins Stuey Gregor’s film of the decade, and that’s good enough for me. See it.

And then I watched Birdman. Birdman has won lots of awards yet has split those I know including my wife and bestie Polly who both loathed it, calling it self indulgent baloney, or words to that effect. I see where they are coming from.

Birdman is Hollywood doing quirk at its highest level. The directing and production are pretty bloody stunning granted and yet… And yet… It just doesn’t ring true. Sure, they’re trying to say something about celebrity, but they do it in such a magnificently Hollywood way the whole thing is laced in its own self-induced and self-involved irony. And shit I hate monologues. Who ever speaks like that? Who speaks like Emma Stone spoke to her dad? Who deliveries soliloquies like the Birdman did way too many times? I know it’s a fantasy but it’s also a bit bloody rubbish. Writing great words is one thing, writing great dialogue another thing entirely. And just as an aside, it’s not easy for me to pan a film with both Naomi Watts AND Emma Stone in it….

But Birdman isn’t all bad I reckon. People much smarter and more learned than me in the craft of film thought it brilliant. But in my mind it was show-offy and hyper produced. Put simply, it’s no Ex Machina. And I bet that’s not been said on the movie pages before.

Ex Machina. 5 stars

Birdman. 3.5 stars

What does Real Strength mean for a modern Aussie man? This is what I (Stu) reckon.

Stu emceed the launch of Dove Men's #RealStrength campaign, which featured five of the Qantas Wallabies sharing their thoughts on feelings, fear and fatherhood.

Stu emceed the launch of Dove Men+Care’s latest campaign, which featured five of the Qantas Wallabies sharing their thoughts on feelings, fear and fatherhood.

I wouldn’t normally blur the lines between my personal blog and work stuff but Liquid Ideas has been working on a campaign for Dove Men+Care that has actually stirred me. Apart from the TV ads making me cry, it has really got me thinking about what it means, what it takes, to be a real man in today’s society. We all hear a lot about women’s place in society and its need for (r)evolution but too often we blokes just get on with it, don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to be seen as “soft”.

Well as I’ve grown older I‘ve become less concerned about what people think of me – to be honest, I think I revel in contradictions and challenging stereotypes, but I think we need a conversation. So here I go and (blatant client plug coming) go to YouTube and type in “Dove Men care” and if a couple of those videos don’t resonate (and make you cry) well you’re a harder nut than me.

The other day I was on a Qantas flight and we had only one of those screens to watch telly on (my God how OLD school) and I really didn’t want to do any work (not rare) so I tuned in…

After the obligatory Sky News (with all reference to airborne tragedies expunged, naturally), there was a nice looking lady introducing what looked like an Aussie documentary series where two people talk of their special relationship. Think of it as a televisual version of the excellent Two of Us column in the Good Weekend.

The lady then introduced frock designer Alex Perry and his Creative Director Trevor Stones as “not your stereotypical Australian male partnership.”

And I wondered, what the hell did she mean? Two blokes, who’ve known each other a long time, who clearly have a great respect for each other and care for each other, two smart blokes taking an Aussie brand to the world . . . so what was ‘un-stereotypical’ about it? I was quite surprised by my own reaction to the introduction. I was actually, truly a bit pissed off.

Was it because they made frocks and styled photo shoots? Was that ‘un-manly’? Was it because fashion is a bit ‘gay’ and Aussie blokes are ‘straight’? Was it because two Aussie blokes shouldn’t tell each other and the world how much they trust each other and care about each other and how much they value the others’ directness, kindness and honesty?

What was the ‘stereotype’ to which she was referring? Was she thinking a more typical intro might be ‘Here are Des and Graham, two Aussie builders who went to school together, drink beer together on a Friday and support the same footy team. Des and Graham are two typical Aussie blokes…’ It’s rubbish, it’s bullshit and it’s so thoroughly outdated it makes me mad even referencing it. Surely our modern day Australian society recognises there is more to being a man than muscles and a love of sport?

I’m an Aussie male who fulfills a few stereotypes and challenges many.  A bloke who works in a ‘lightweight/unmanly’ industry like public relations yet is a vocal footy and cricket fan. I have gay friends and work colleagues – I have straight ones, conservative ones and ones who are batshit, mad hippies. Which makes me just like most other blokes I know.

I have just a few close mates (in fact maybe two) with whom I’d confide my closest held fears and I know that’s several fewer than most of my female counterparts – and I’ll be honest, I wish I had more.

I’m not a great communicator about my feelings and I probably always think things can be sorted out over a few beers and a laugh. But I know that’s a bit old-school and it’s something I’m trying to change. I am the father of a son who is eight, who liked to wear dresses as a kid but who now obsesses about cricket and rugby; an eight year old who freely admitted to me the other night that he’s still a bit afraid of the dark. I know his favourite uncle is gay Uncle Glenby, who is as flamboyant as a drag queen but who also defies stereotypes. Mardi Gras stalwart, tick. Racehorse owner, tick. Mad golf buff, tick.

I love my son. Not more than my father loved me, but different. I hug him and tell him how much I care about him all the time and I’ve cried in front of him on many occasions, including watching those damn Dove ads. I warn him never to judge, always to be kind and caring, and to accept everyone on face value. I reckon that’s the true measure of a man – being comfortable with who you are and how you feel, no matter if it’s the ‘norm’ or not.

Male stereotypes, whatever they are, are AWFUL. If you make one young man uncomfortable in his skin, make him feel “weird” or worse, unloved, then we have failed.

We blokes are all full of contradiction and confusion, and we don’t deserve to be told we don’t fit the ‘bill’. If we can move away from these confining, stereotypical ideas of what a ‘real man’ is, then we’ll be creating a better place for our kids to grow up. And we’ll be creating a better place for ourselves too.

Each to their own my friends. Each to their own.

To support the Dove Men+Care initiative, share your thoughts on today’s modern man using the hashtag #RealStrength on Twitter or Instagram. And be sure to check out the Dove Men+Care #RealStrength podcast series, the first of which features Wallabies and Waratahs rugby coach Michael Cheika: http://www.dovemencare.com.au/realstrength-podcast.html

The Greatest Food and Drink Show on Earth: A Night at The Fat Duck

The Liquid Nitrogen Gin & Tonic is just one of many innovative concoctions at The Fat Duck.

The Liquid Nitrogen Gin & Tonic is just one of many innovative concoctions at The Fat Duck.

Last Friday night I had the best dining experience of my life. Yep, I went to The Fat Duck.
It was epic. It was long, very long, funny, delicious, creative, whimsical and a little bit mind-blowing. And yes, it was very, very expensive. It is very hard to reconcile the cost, it’s almost impossible to suggest it represented value but it was a proper once-in-a-lifetime experience, it was even better than the most over hyped expectations and it took the dinner experience, the restaurant experience to a place I’m not sure I ever thought it could go.

The whole thing was bloody marvellous but the adjective I kept returning to when I came around from my hungover splendour the next day was “confidence”. There was something just awesome about the confidence of the place, of the people, of the intent and the delivery. It was not smugness or arrogance, it was a sense that “we know what we are doing” come along with us. A little bit of swagger for sure but a wonderful, secure sense of “we invented this whole crazy dining thing, there are many, many imitators, now just watch us do our stuff”. And they blew the imposters away.

The staff were brilliant – so often the failing at Australian restaurants. This team were polished but always friendly, never condescending, completely charming, knowledgeable and just a bloody joy to have coming to your table – and they came a lot – I think it was 17 courses…

I have a well-known aversion to smug, self-serving sommeliers – insecure, bearded men who want to confuse and patronise you. The Fat Duck team, lead by a Turk and a Frenchman, were the absolute opposite. At one stage Remi, the French one, even talked me DOWN in price from a Burgundy to a German Spätburgunder and it was INSPIRED. The wine list had a lovely mix of new and old, international and Australian, post-modern and classic. And while it was expensive, I didn’t get the feeling they were taking a lend of me.

The highlight of the meal - the West Australian marron

Highlight of the evening: The West Australian marron.

The food, well it was dazzling. And I don’t think I’ve ever been bedazzled by food and it’s certainly not a descriptor I’ve ever used. I mean the concept of dry ice floating across the entire table with mounds of moss sounds completely ridiculous yet I was as transfixed as a kid in a candy store. The snail porridge is famous and, goddam it, completely bloody delicious. The local touches were superb. A West Australian marron dish was probably the food highlight of the night – superb Australian produce treated brilliantly. The botrytis cinerea dessert, a play on the classic sweet wines, is quite simply the best dessert I’ve had in my life – and I’m bloody lucky that I’ve now tasted it twice.

And that’s what this was, a once (or maybe twice) in a lifetime experience – it simply made a whole lot of other restaurant experiences just feel like being fed by strangers. This was theatre and execution at an entirely different level. And the marketing people talk about “customer engagement” WELL THIS MADE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WERE PART OF SOMETHING SO SPECIAL, SO AWESOME THAT REALLY you want to proselytise about it to anyone who will listen, or read. The brilliance of each diner getting a small piece of a giant puzzle (that then gets placed on a giant wall puzzle to be completed at the end of the six month stay) gives you a sense that you played your small part in the history – that you can say you were there, that you were involved in the movement.

Best dessert of all time? The botrytis cinerea.

Best dessert of all time? The botrytis cinerea.

I’m very lucky that over the next few months I’m visiting some of the great restaurants in the world in many different cities – I’m sure most will have stunning food and great service but I wonder if they will make me fall in love like the Fat Duck. Heston wasn’t there – he was apparently in London in the “lab”. But we didn’t miss him and nor did the restaurant.

Bravo The Fat Duck and bravo Crown Melbourne. I feel enormously privileged to have sat in the very front row at the greatest food and drink show on earth.

The future of PR? Well, it’s not PR for starters… Frankie goes to London to find the answers

Frankie GFrankie Gallucci is the 2014 Liquid Ideas Employee of the Year, she is 24 and tomorrow night is a finalist for Best New PR Talent at CommsCon, the industry’s Logies. But she doesn’t reckon we should be in PR, or be called PR. . . . This is a good thought piece for those of us interested in, and fascinated by, the changing way we consume media and marketing messages:

The future of PR? Well, it’s not PR for starters…

Having studied advertising at University I grew a strong distaste for PR and those studying it. Advertising was more creative, we had more fun and the end result was clear – it was everywhere – on TV, billboards, you get my point. PR on the other hand was an unexplainable part of the marketing mix. I knew very little about what it entailed except for two words it was defined by: earned media.

I got my job at Liquid Ideas through the Communication Council Graduate Program knowing very little about public relations. The graduate program pairs up recently graduated hopefuls with advertising agencies but the year I entered one PR agency had entered the mix – Liquid Ideas. The decision to put Liquid down as my number one preference on the day was complete impulse, having only ever wanted to work for an ad agency, but Stuart Gregor somehow won me over in with his unique persona, scatter brain and ability to differentiate himself from the pack. I had never met anyone like him. Except maybe my dad. My dad played huge influence on why I wanted to enter the advertising world – having passed away far too young, he is well remembered and respected in the advertising and media landscape in Australia.

So, the point of my three paragraph introduction – had you asked me two years ago what public relations was I would have said earned media – simply getting other people to say nice things about your clients, while crossing my fingers behind my back hoping that I could ‘fake it until I make it’ at Liquid Ideas. Little did I know or expect that two years on I would be on the other side of the world in London sitting with 30 PR professionals from around the globe discussing the future of public relations and the communications industry.

Liquid Ideas is the Sydney partner of IPREX – a global consortium of communications agencies from around the world. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend and participate in a global leadership conference in London. Over two days, together with my peers from Europe, America and New Zealand, we listened, learnt and discussed the future of public relations through the lens of ‘Beyond silos: operation and managing in an integrated communication industry.’

The first presentation (and my favourite) was from Arun Sudhaman, partner and editor-in-chief at the Holmes Report, one of the world’s leading journals focussed on our industry. Arun confirmed something we all already know and practice but don’t necessarily advocate within our industry – public relations is no longer defined or restricted by the term ‘earned media.’ Instead we need to start thinking in terms of converged mediapaid, owned and earned all together.

To stop myself from writing a novel about what we learnt and my thoughts on the communication industry below are some summarised learnings:

  • The term PR as it stands is no longer relevant. If we want to keep referring to ourselves as PR practitioners we need to change the stigma associated with it. We need to show (and then sell) all of what we are capable of. Education within the industry and to our clients is starting point. PR is NOT Edina and Patsy from AbFab . . .we wish they never existed, despite how funny they might have been.
  • Recruit and structure differently. We need to stop only hiring people with a traditional public relations background. Let’s expand the talent within our agencies to those with expertise in  digital, animation, creativity, analytics, behavioural science, cultural anthropology and the list goes on. Currently, the biggest form of recruitment in PR is talent from other PR agencies. In order to adapt to the changing environment we need to explore new talents that expand our capabilities (as well as upskill and train ourselves). On a global scale, talent is overtaking economic conditions as the biggest challenge in public relations.

The question here is does recruiting differently mean we need to change the structure of our agencies. Do we need to develop new teams such as social, editorial, film-making, planning and insight? Or can these areas of expertise work best as freelance? Traditionally PR agencies are structured differently to advertising agencies – is this something we should learn from? There is no clear answer here but something worth considering.

  • We need to think about changing the way we charge our clients. Agencies bill clients for staff hours. But at the end of the day clients are buying an outcome not hours. This was an interesting topic of discussion with at least half the room of delegates agreeing that billing hours may not be the most effective way of charging our clients moving forward. That being said there is no clear answer or direction of where change could come from but it does makes an interesting debate – charging for the calibre of the idea as opposed to the time for the idea.
  • Measurement is a mysterious beast. One challenge consistent across all agencies is measurement, how do we accurately show the value of our work? This topic is still very much up in the air globally but two things were clear. AVEs (advertising value equivalency) is NOT the answer. As an agency this is something we don’t do however many clients still use this to compare PR value to advertising. The other outtake was that we need to measure inputs, outputs and outcomes. Often we only look at the first two as outcomes can be hard to track – how do we measure the effect an article had on a consumer’s purchasing decision. If the public relations industry wants to prove their value in the marketing mix we need to make sure we are searching for these answers.
  • Leadership and management is not the same thing. Real leadership happens in the conversations you are having with people while management is about managing and allocating resources, capacity, projects etc. Leaders ask what, why, how while managers ask when, who, where. Leadership starts with empathy, which builds rapport and then trust. If you took the hierarchy away (of management) would people still follow? The worst thing you can hear within an agency is “that’s just the way we do it here.”
  • There is no such thing as a new idea, but there are new ways of thinking. Invest in creativity. Full stop.

The definition of public relations may be changing but the fundamental building blocks of what underpins our industry – understanding influence, relationships and storytelling remain the same. And public relations is not alone, traditional advertising and media agencies alike are also facing an unknown future as we no longer stand alone as silos. The black and white lines of the marketing mix have turned to shades of grey as the communications industry is at a tipping point of huge change.

A big thank you to IPREX Global President John Scheibel who created the wonderful GLC forum for me (and my peers) to discuss and learn what I just (briefly) touched on above. IPREX is a wonderful extended family that Liquid Ideas is lucky to be a part of. Check out more info here: http://iprex.com/

And Stuart Gregor – thank you for letting me take over your blog this week and for giving me the invaluable opportunity to represent Liquid Ideas at this year’s GLC.

Final words from John Scheibel, an age-old truism with a unique Ice Hockey slant:  “Skate to where the hockey puck is going…not where it’s been.”