The meaning of Christmas, and of PR

I went to see my youngest son’s school Christmas play recently. Twice. It was very enjoyable and he got a kick out of my being there such that I would have sat through anything he asked me to.

As I sat looking at the scenery my mind wandered inexplicably to a question both my children have asked me from time-to-time. What is it, they have asked, that I do for a living. It’s a question that I’ve often struggled to answer in terms they understand. And as I sat there, I asked myself…. what would Jesus do?

No, I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. But I did find myself wondering if I could take the elements of the nativity and use them to create an explanation of what I do for a living.

Let’s consider the main characters.

The inn-keeper
I’ve played the “no room at the inn” card when denying journalists access to my clients in times of crisis control and damage limitation. So he fits.

The angel Gabriel
If the angel of the Lord had come down and confronted a journalist the exchange would have gone something like this.

Angel: “I bring great news for you and all mankind!”
Journo: “If you have a press release you can email it to me and I may read it later, but please don’t call to ask me if I’ve received it.”

So the angel Gabriel fits the bill.

The shepherds
They watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground. I haven’t done a great deal of sitting on the ground during my time in PR, but I have frequently felt like I was watching my flock. Although herding cats is a description that feels more apt.
Either way, I look out for my clients’ reputations, and I look out for the best interests of the people I manage. So grab your crooks fellas… you’ve made the cut.

King Herod
Well, let’s face it…. we’ve all got a few client-from-hell stories to tell. You’re in, your majesty.

Three Wise Men
Trying to make sense of events that go on around them, they fit perfectly.

The holy family themselves is where I struggle. So I’m leaving them out – for now at least.

Were I to then take all the above elements and weave them into an explanation of what PR is, it might go a little like this.

I try to tell people important news, not my news. But news from someone else – I’m like a messenger. When I’m not doing that I’m protecting my clients from anyone who is trying to say bad things about them. And sometimes, like the inn-keeper, I have to be a bit stern and say no.

I often feel like one of the wise men, as I understand the bigger picture (Balthazar, probably, because he’s the only one of the wise men who ended up with his own animated TV show in the 1960s and 70s).  And I work in an industry so full of arrogance and ego that you’d be forgiven for thinking every other person believes they’ve been cast in the role of son of God.

Or daughter. No gender bias here, folk.

As descriptions of my job go, it’s far from perfect. But it beats the one my eldest son came up with at school when he was seven. Asked what his dad’s job is, he said “he visits people in their offices and they have to give him money.”

Ho ho no

What does Christmas mean to you?

Family? Turkey (no not the country)? Time off work? Mince pies? Mistletoe? Booze?

The list goes on.

How about… 25 September? No…? Really? Of all the things that Christmas means to you, 25 September isn’t one of them?

Me neither.

Or at least that was the case until recently – 25 September to be precise – when I was in Tesco.

There I was gamely pushing my trolley round the store, the epitome of the happy shopper, when I encountered not one but two whole aisles of Christmassy-looking stuff.

I did a double-take and inwardly corrected myself for having wrongly identified some predominantly red, green and white boxes and vaguely bauble-shaped banners as something to do with Christmas. An easy mistake to make, I told myself. But a mistake nonetheless.

However, the closer I got the more bauble-like the banner advertising seemed and there, on the seemingly generic red, green and white packaging there appeared to be a jolly-looking fat bloke with a white beard, accompanied by the occasional sprig of holly.

What the fa-la-la-la-laa, I asked myself, and went to inspect.

Yes… Christmas has come early. Three months ahead of schedule, to be exact. Making Halloween and Guy Fawkes look like the laggardly slackers of the calendar they clearly are. I mean, where are they? Nowhere to be seen, that’s where.

Now I’m sure a lot of you will instinctively reach for the “Christmas has been ruined by over-commercialisation” line. And while I’m broadly in agreement with you, I am starting to think there may be more to this than meets the eye, some of which could actually be advantageous.

The silver-lining in all of this for me, from a purely selfish perspective, is that it can only mean I’ll be getting my birthday presents around the end of October instead of waiting until the end January as I’ve always had to do in the past. Assuming, as I am, that the supermarket behemoth has finally grown tired of dominating the retail skyline and has decided to rewrite the calendar.

Easter will, I imagine, quite possibly arrive in February, meaning the Easter Bunny may be in peril of incurring a frost-bitten tail. And other annual events will have to be rearranged too, no doubt.

Mothers Day, Fathers Day – who knows where they might end up. Your wedding anniversary – anyone’s guess.

I know where I hope they stick Valentine’s Day, but I doubt they will – apart from anything else, where I’ve got in mind for it actually has nothing to do with the calendar at all.