Alan Edwards is a PR guru, and make no mistake. Having been involved in the PR industry since 1974, he has worked with a myriad of stars including David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Virgin Radio and the ubiquitous David and Victoria Beckham to name just a few.
Recently Edwards was invited to speak at the Loop (a Manchester-based business event for the creative industries) – speaking on the theme ‘A master class from the PR master’, and he took time out to speak to Adline about all things PR related.
Owner of the Outside Organisation – and with a staff of over 50 people – he is certainly on top of his game in the PR field.
But how did his PR talk translate to a group of people who, let’s be frank about it, might not have the same glamorous field that he works in? Well, according to Edwards, selling a star works along the same principles as, say, the not so glamorous task of PR-ing widgets to a trade magazine.
\"I think what we do is along the same principles as any area of PR. Ultimately what we are doing is selling a story or product. It simply comes down to what service we can offer our clients.
\"I am always aware whether it is Perrier, or say Ratner or a footballer that has had a fight in a nightclub – that is what we are really, making sure that we get the best coverage for the client and that we make sure that as little damage is done to their reputation as possible.\"
Surely however the PR game must have changed since Edwards went into it, making the all too familiar cross-over from journalist (a music one to be exact) to PR?
\"Well of course things have changed. People want an immediate response from a story and they want the story right there, right now. When I stated there were only three TV channels, less papers and we didn’t have the internet. All these things make a huge difference to the way we work.
\"But we still work on a very human basis. 30 years ago I would have written a press release and dropped it in the post – now it goes on email and you get immediate reaction. At the same time I am still meeting up with people, making sure the relationships are being kept intact.\"
However, Edwards does contend that while the PR industry as a whole has changed, it is becoming an increasingly popular career choice for those wanting to work in a ‘glamorous’ industry.
He comments: \"I know that PR is one of the most sought after courses to do at some universities as it is seen as very fashionable and exciting at the moment and that has really changed from when I first started. In the 1970s there were only two rock PRs in the business, and when people asked what your job was and you said you were in PR they would look at you blankly. These days, however, it seems that everyone wants to get into the industry.\"
Nothing new there then. But where does Edwards get his high profile and awe inspiring client list from – does he have a pitch list that he aims to get on?
In short, no. \"The business has grown organically – we look after all sorts of people. Say for example a boy band that we worked with 10 years ago and have now split up, we sometimes will keep that relationship going with one or two members of the band and it grows from there.
\"For example we are working with Jenny Frost at the moment since she has come out of the jungle and we have known her even before she was a member in Atomic Kitten. We find that having a good relationship with people is very important.\"
These days, the national press are often criticised for planting stories in the papers – does he think that this criticism is warranted? Not completely says Edwards, although times most definitely are changing and perhaps not for the best: \"The one thing that has changed with the newspaper industry is staffing levels – the nationals really are pairing down their staff and that means that people aren’t necessarily double checking stories all the time. For example we could say that Atomic Kitten are flying over London in a hot air balloon and they would take that for granted and not actually go out and check it. It goes back to the fact that people want their news immediately and they want to get an immediate response from it too. Things can get in newspapers easily.\"
Prior to this interview, Adline was informed that Edwards would not answer questions on David and Victoria \"brand\" Beckham – clients that he no longer works with. It is understandable (to a point) I conjecture, for a client not to want to talk about certain areas of their life, but surely it is part of a PR man’s job to field even the most annoying of questions at all times?
Edwards acquiesces. \"I don’t have a paranoia about answering questions about them – it’s just that sometimes I feel that interviews can become too involved with them. I don’t mind saying that we helped play a part in their success.\"
So, what of the brand Beckham – is this the way that PR is heading? \"I think you have to remember that David actually had a lot to do with what they are doing now. He had a vision and saw it through and it is not something he is given a lot of credit for.
\"But the idea that the notion of ‘brand’ Beckham is an entirely new thing isn’t true. You just have to look at the Beatles success – when you could buy pens, bed covers, moustaches all featuring them on it – to realise that this is not a new thing, It’s just that people are more aware of what they (the stars) are doing\"
So, does it make his job difficult that people are becoming incredibly aware of the mechanisms of PR? Edwards isn’t too sure: \"Yes people are becoming more alert to PR but I don’t think we control the media – it really is giving the industry too much credit. We are a glorified messenger and we pass on information to news outlets, that’s all.\"
With the myriad of artists that Edwards has worked with over the past three decades, will he be following in the footsteps of Morgan or Clifford and selling his memoirs any time soon? A laugh comes from the other end of the telephone.
\"Max, I would say, is a very skilful operator but he is not a PR man, he is an agent and is therefore coming from a different end of things than me.
\"I have to say that yes I have lived an interesting life, but in terms of writing a memoir I don’t know. I don’t have any thing planned but this industry has given me a number of great stories over the years, and have helped me out when I am struggling for conversation during a long dull dinner. But I don’t think they will be put into a book anytime soon.\"