Health Care Drama
Before Berry & Green; before the glory years with Jamie Oliver; before the decade of music industry excess with The Who, Steps, Backstreet Boys, Britney and all the rest of it; before Big Brother and before launching all your favourite Channel 4 sitcoms and dramas, I had a proper PR job where I had to read and care about PR Week magazine and where my clients were big, corporate businesses like Sun Alliance Insurance and the Asda Festival of Food & Farming in Hyde Park. Man, it was dull.
However, there would occasionally be an occurrence worthy of this blog and one such incident involves a client whose business was care of the elderly. In case they’re still in business (they aren’t) or in case any former directors are litigious (they might be) we shall, for the purposes of today, call them Shipton Health Care. Settle into a comfy Underground train seat, oh best beloved, as we travel back to provincial Britain of the late 80s………….
As the incumbent PR agency, our role - for many thousands of pounds each month - was to help them open regional care homes for the elderly with the maximum of local attention - local paper or two, local radio, TV if we could get it. Influencers were but a twinkle in their parents’ eyes at this point. To achieve this, we would first contact the local MP to find out when they might be free to cut a ribbon and then, once that date was set, invite other local dignitaries, the media and one crucial extra component - a celebrity!
Having spent so much on the monthly PR retainer, Shipton HC couldn’t really afford any big names to attend each opening so all celebrities had to be tempted for £300 or less. Sean Connery was slightly out of their league. Instead, we would trawl local theatres for anyone who had once been on telly and who was then appearing in The Cherry Orchard at the Unicorn Theatre, Oswestry. Occasionally we would strike lucky and find that someone from The Archers lived locally and would do the gig just so that their face could for once be seen (note to younger readers: The Archers is like Love Island but without pictures. And there’s a farm.)
Once everything was in place, we would attend the event, ensure the media spoke at length to the “celebrity” and the MP and the care home manager, then sit back and wait for the coverage to be faxed in. Generally, the event would take place a few days before the care home was open so there was no danger of any elderly residents spoiling the photocall. However, on one occasion, the only date available was around a week AFTER the home began to take in guests. Luckily they had a special method of keeping the two parties separate……..
We knew the home was occupied but were surprised that the opening ceremony passed without a squeak from anyone apart from a distant knocking from down one of the house corridors. We soon found out why. After the MP and the celebrity and the media had left, the care home manager breathed a sigh of relief and said, “OK, we can let them out now.” The directors had decided it was safest to lock the elderly residents in one part of the care home for two hours with some tea but no access to a toilet.