PR: It's a sailor's life for me

As someone who works for a shipping and energy PR consultancy, I'm comfortable with whatever challenges my maritime clients throw at me, says BLUE Communications' Simon Phillips.

Think of the boat as an agency: A small cramped space which you can't leave, writes Simon Phillips
Think of the boat as an agency: A small cramped space which you can't leave, writes Simon Phillips
What 15 years in the PR industry doesn't prepare you for is running a PR campaign at sea, in pirate-infested waters. 

Well, that’s how I spent my summer, sailing in the Indian Ocean while working pro bono for a charity expedition called Mission: Safe Ocean. 

The challenge was a 1,000km kitesurf along the east coast of Africa to raise funds for seafarer welfare and African development charities, and to highlight the long-term causes of international piracy. 

Setting off from Pemba, Mozambique, I spent a month in a small boat as part of an eight-strong team following our intrepid kitesurfer off the coast of Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, all the way to Mombasa.

Think of it as a tiny workspace that you can't leave, whether working, eating or sleeping (I know, just like agency life), but with the added value of pitching and rolling on the ocean while you draft a press release, at the same time as battling seasickness. 

And ignoring the fact that you’ve entered high-risk piracy waters; I should have negotiated ransom terms with my company before departure.

Internet connectivity and power couldn't be taken for granted. Relying on a generator to power all computer equipment (cue a frantic dash to find a repairman in Zanzibar when it did break down) and the limitations of a satellite connection, we learned to make tough choices about what we could upload.

The biggest lesson was the necessity of teamwork and mucking in with whatever needed doing to keep everyone safe, sailing in the right direction and moving towards our goals. 

My skillset rapidly expanded to include a multitude of other tasks, from running satphones and GPS trackers to keeping watch at night. 

We encountered hiccups along the way, not least stranding our kitesurfer overnight due to a map-reading error (sorry Jacob). 

But we learned along the way, grew close as a team and worked 24/7 for each other to achieve our goals, raising thousands of dollars in donations and some fantastic media coverage for our cause, including on the BBC and CNBC.

It helps to have a good spokesperson and we had a great one. 

Drawing on our relationships with our maritime contacts and international media, we secured some great opportunities to tell his story. 

But also the good sense to harness his inherent passion for his cause, with just the right amount of guidance on how to convey his message in the most impactful fashion.

It was the most challenging experience of my career and the most rewarding. Complete strangers became close friends and I learned a huge amount about my own capabilities. 

After years in the industry, it’s refreshing to know there are still ‘firsts’ out there – and I’m sure these experiences can be found on land too. If the opportunity ever arises to do something completely different, grab it with both hands.

Simon Phillips is a senior consultant with BLUE Communications 

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