When flying was the only PR option

rover1They say you learn something new every day.  Today I had lunch with some “vintage” PR practitioners, who worked in the UK motor industry in the 1960s.  In discussing the way things were back then, I learned that it was common practice to airlift cars across the Channel. 

I apologise for the quality of this image, but it shows a very young Gethin Bradley (4th from right) with a number of key motoring journalists preparing for such a PR event in 1961.

Apparently this plane, operated by could accommodate several vehicles.  The company began transporting passengers and their cars between the UK and Europe in 1948, with operations stepping up after investing £400,000 in the first post-war airport in the country at Lydd in 1956.  The fare was £25 for a car and £4 per passenger with 137,000 cars and half a million passengers using the service between 1953 and 1957.

I cannot imagine anyone contemplating taking cars on a routine PR event by air these days.  Apart from concerns over the carbon footprint, cost would be prohibitive.  Instead, any PR practitioners organising a driving event to Europe would use the ferry or .

Back in 1961, I understand it wasn’t feasible to use the ferry because they operated as lo-lo vessels (lift on, lift off using cranes), rather than the modern ro-ro (roll on, roll off) set-up.  This meant the operation was slow and very expensive.  Also, according to Wikipedia, before travellng by sea:

Automobiles had their gas tanks emptied and their batteries disconnected before being hoisted into the ship’s hold, where they were chocked and secured. This process was tedious and difficult, vehicles were subject to damage, and could not be used for routine travel.

Sometimes PR practices don’t seem to have changed much over the years and then you are reminded of logistical limitations that reveal an entirely different world. 

Gethin also informed me that back in the day, of course, there were no credit cards, meaning such events needed to be funded with cash advances from the company.  He recalls the bean-counters commenting whenever he needed to obtain such monies – “back again, Mr Bradley”.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

6 thoughts on “When flying was the only PR option”

  1. Silver City did have a first PR man on the spot;Anthony Good founder of the iconic PR Consultancy Good Relations Limited.
    All the stars & celebrities etc used the service.
    Stirling Moss made the fastest car run in the Daily Mail Air Race! London to Paris

  2. They don’t do press trips like they used to! I worked in the motor industry as a journalist in the late 80s. While the wining, dining and traveling were still going on, they paled in comparison to some of the launches I heard about in the 60s and 70s from some of the ‘old hands’. I remember a story from a journalist on one car launch (no names) in the Far East who returned to his hotel room after a particularly dinner to find that he had been supplied with a ‘bed warmer’ of the more attractive type. He insisted that he made his excuses and asked her to leave.

  3. I’ve heard those tales too, but it is normally presented as being Amsterdam rather than the Far East. I don’t know if this is myth or truth. There are also the stories of mega-prezzies such as cars and colour televisions at the end of press launches. Today, they seem lucky to get a corporate biro (although the foreign travel and five star hotel accommodation is still much in evidence).

  4. I once got a set of Portmeirion kitchenware after a Fiat Ducato launch in Italy, and was given a free choice of swag in the Mercede Benz gift shop. However the best was coming back from a Danish Bacon press trip with a wife – but that’s another story.

  5. How can you tease with a statement like that about a wife as a “freebie”?

    I seem to remember (and I will check this one) that Fiat regularly gave Portmeirionware so that journalists could build up a collection.

    When launching the Peugeot 605, we gave journalists a branded Samsonite brief case in which we’d placed the press pack. I had the bright idea of changing all the opening codes to 605 – and my boss concurred, with the caveat that I had to alter them all from 000. It took hours and I’m not sure any of the media valued my efforts.

    Still the launch was at the luxurious Chewton Glen hotel, and I trained the bar staff to keep me supplied with their excellent Bloody Mary. I can’t swear that I changed all the codes accurately as a result though.

  6. And who said that people don’t remember giveaways?

    Journalists in Denmark are very morally superior when it comes to blag and are horrified that such things went (go) on. I’ve never had a problem with getting or giving gifts though. I can’t say I’ve ever written a more positive story because of them, but it certainly helped choose which ones I went to.

    The combination of a good story AND a good blag is still unbeatable.

    (…and the wife I’m still paying for)

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