We’ve found ourselves in some unusual places over our 30-year history; none more so than an abattoir and, yesterday, a prison.
Both experiences provided fascinating glimpses into worlds that not many people have the opportunity to see, and both proved to be incredibly positive PR exercises.
We often start a relationship with a new client by spending a day in the life of their business, and therefore realised we had committed to touring an abattoir.
Far from converting us to vegetarianism, the tour left us enlightened as to exactly what good practice in the industry looks like. It made us aware of our client's strong focus on animal welfare and left us committed to looking more carefully into the origins of the meat we bought from there on in.
So confident were we in the quality of the operation we saw in action – which by far exceeded the minimum industry standards – and so forward-thinking and sure of its quality systems was the owner and operator of the abattoir, they agreed to let us invite a journalist in for a tour.
The resulting media coverage was a world away from the undercover abattoir footage you typically see published, and reflected so well on the business it led to written praise from the National Farmers Union president.
More recently, we attended an event at HMP Leeds. Strange choice of venue to launch a business networking group, you might think, and certainly walking through ‘C Wing’ among a group of suited and booted business people, as prisoners went about their evening routine before being locked in their cells for the night, was a surreal experience.
But, as our tour guide showed us around the design and print shop (from which ‘residents’ produce leaflets and flyers for use in the prison system) and opened the doors to one of the prison’s several machine shops (where hundreds of thousands of garments and items of bed linen are produced by residents every week), he outlined the role businesses can play in the rehabilitation of offenders.
By providing work to the copy and machine shops, businesses could be helping HMP Leeds deliver on their commitment to reduce reoffending rates by tackling the issue of unemployment on release – currently the single biggest contributor to reoffending.
“I’m not asking you to give every ex offender a job,” said HMP Leeds Governor, Paul Barker. “What I am asking you is to be open-minded about giving them an opportunity. It could be as simple as inviting someone with a criminal record into your business for a mock job interview. That is an invaluable experience.”
I can’t believe that any of the 130 people who attended last night’s event left without having had their eyes and minds opened in some way.
Opening your doors to the media and to the public are brave steps for organisations operating in areas that many view as the ‘unsavoury’ side of life.
But, at a time when crisis PR seems to be at an all-time high, it’s incredibly refreshing to see organisations using PR positively, in ways that many would shy away from, to deliver real and meaningful benefits.