After 21 years at Wildfire the time has come to hang up my laptop and iPhone and sail off into the sunrise of retirement in a couple of weeks time.
It is actually nearly 50 years since I started work, as a mediocre secretary, and 49 since my first PR job as a secretary in the PR department of fashion store group Peter Robinson. My secretarial skills not having improved much, I soon moved into a PR role, eventually becoming a fully-fledged fashion PR. I learnt on the job, as you did then, had contact with all fashion editors, and was part of the store opening team for a new style of stores – Top Shop. All this and still under 20.
I moved over to publishing and did a stint on a group of mainly trade magazines working in editorial, advertising and layout departments, plus running a club for its consumer publication Freezer Family.
Then it was back to my first love — fashion — and six happy years in the press office at British Home Stores. BHS was a very close rival to M&S; they both ruled the high street. Store openings, internal/external communications, constant press contact, fashion shows and, my favourite, organising photo shoots for releases and publicity posters were the order of the day. (A few stories there!)
This was a time when everything was time-consuming and mechanical. Press releases were either sent to a printer to produce, with glossy photographs to attach, or typed onto waxy stencils (any error and you had to start again) and loaded onto a duplicating machine to be, literally, rolled off the press.
All communication was by phone and you got to know journalists well.
One of the best tasks was at the end of the financial year. As soon as the figures were approved, we would jump into waiting taxis and visit every newspaper publishing house in Fleet Street and beyond. At each destination it was out of the taxi, into the finance desk, leave the release and dash off to the next one. I learnt all the central London back-doubles this way.
Now, it’s just a button on a computer — more efficient but much less exciting.
I later moved back into the world of publishing and events, working on travel and leisure clubs with dedicated magazines for each. I organised events and offers for the Daily Telegraphand Woman’s Journal clubs, alongside foodie events for the Gourmet Cookery Club. Technology had moved on a bit and I actually had a computer to work on, though use of the internet was restricted because dial-up access was so expensive!
When I joined Wildfire, or EML as it was then, press releases were still printed and posted but this time using in-house photocopying machines — images still handled externally. I came as editor of internal communications for companies such as Lucent Technologies/Avaya but after a few years moved over to PR. By this time technology had become key to a PR’s daily life with access to the internet opening up new online worlds that our clients wanted to be in.
So, 21 years on, where does PR stand today?
In a world that is its oyster, I would say. There are so many ways to attract attention that were not even dreamt of when I joined Wildfire, let alone 50 years ago. Would I want to go back? I don’t think so because, although those times were gentler in many ways, there were much fewer ways to get a client’s message out than there are today.
It’s been a blast and I could not have asked for a better place to see out my gainfully employed years. I have worked with over 30 clients and 165 colleagues across the gamut of modern technology and enjoyed every minute of it.
Thank you for your support and goodbye.