Here at PA Cooperative Ltd, we love a road trip. It’s a great way to connect with clients (and potential clients), learn more about their needs, and see the beautiful countryside of Scotland.
When the business started 10 years ago, it was (in common with all start-ups) mainly about business development. This meant getting out and about and speaking with prospective new clients to see how we could help them deliver their business needs. However, a number of these trips ended with disappointment, rather than new business, as is often the case.
With any new business, it’s always a struggle to keep positive in the face of some setbacks, and this was made worse as we sat in some sometimes less than salubrious surroundings, contemplating the latest knock-back over a gristly bacon roll.
Two particular occasions spring to mind, one to the south of Glasgow and the other to the north. When we started the business, we were full of positivity about what a small, ethical, successful public affairs consultancy could look like. We had visions of client meetings in lovely restaurants in Edinburgh and London, wining and dining with the great and the good.
Instead, we found ourselves awaiting a new business meeting with an uncertain outcome where the only place to eat was a somewhat down-at-heel café in a faded shopping centre which, even in its heyday, might not have looked out of place in a grey suburb of Soviet-era Moscow.
Another ‘highlight’ was a visit to the north of Glasgow where, after travelling for what seemed like hours along rural roads with potholes, sharp bends and ever-changing speed limits, we arrived early for our meeting and decided to grab some refreshment at a local cafe. After requesting a bacon roll for my colleague David Lee, I was asked ‘Large or small?’ I inquired what the difference was, to be told that a large roll included 6 (yes 6) rashers of bacon while in a small one it was only (!) 3. So essentially the roll was an entire supermarket sized packet of bacon in a roll. And people wonder why the Scottish public have health problems. We went with the small, which wasn’t really small at all. I’ve never really been able to look at a bacon roll in quite the same way since and that’s not really a bad thing.
As PA Cooperative approaches its 10-year anniversary, I’m pleased to say the standard of our road trips and catering has definitely gone up. These days we are as often to be spotted in hipster-approved gastropub before a meeting at Westminster as we are in the cafes of suburban Scotland. Last week however was a highlight.
After a successful company and client night out at the Edinburgh fringe, our southern-based colleague Rachael Clamp ChartPR joined me, David Robertson and Emma Menmuir of Scottish Woodlands Ltd for a visit to one of their forests near Dunning in Perthshire. Taking into account the late night in Edinburgh, we opted for an afternoon start and Rachael seemed unfazed by the winding Scottish B roads leading from the UK’s most northerly motorway to the golf club car park in Dunning.
The new woodland is a short drive up the glen from Dunning and the view is absolutely stunning. Looking down on Strathearn, the newly harvested fields of barley glowed in the late summer sunshine and not even passing thundery showers could spoil the distant mountain vistas. On the site itself, David demonstrated how well the trees are growing and all the work Scottish Woodlands staff have to put in to make sure it stays that way. While the trees are great, Dave was occasionally distracted by the abundant blaeberries providing an instant snack, while the abundance of butterflies was an added bonus.
The showers stopped but then Rachael made close acquaintance with that other constant of the Scottish summer that, unlike sweet berries and butterflies, is most definitely unwelcome; the dreaded midge. In well-worn fashion, we tried to ignore them for a while but after a few minutes even Dave, who spends much of his time outdoors, declared the battle lost and it was back to the car.
On the way back, we met a local using the newly-created path network among the growing pines to exercise his dog. Much has been written about what government plans for more afforestation means for Scotland and not all of it is positive. However this clearly shows how a site that was previously used for grazing livestock is now more accessible to the public after trees are planted. In a few years time I can imagine mountain bikers using some of the tracks for a challenging route around the forest. Woodland creation brings plenty of benefits for people in Scotland and increased access to the countryside is part of that mix. Long may it continue.
Public affairs and PR is much like other areas of human endeavour. You have to kiss a few frogs on the road to finding your Prince. I’m not sure we’ve found Prince Charming quite yet but the lesson of ten years at the coal face is that if he does exist, it’s more likely to be in these sunlit uplands than the suburban sprawl. At least in our fairy tale…