Friday, 26 November 2010

PRs & Booze: A Love Story.

This blog topic was inspired by my dear friend Mike Goldman and his mate Benn Jae, who have this week launched a charity initiative to NOT drink over the silly season, called Desperate2Drink. They figured anyone who does Ocsober or Dry July is a lightweight and that this is truly the ultimate test! Bizarrely enough, prior to them telling me about it I had already made the personal decision to not drink from December 18th-Jan 2nd, to give myself a break and start 2011 with bright eyes & a bushy tail. That's right, no alcohol at all through Xmas & New Year's. OK you can get up off the floor now. It's true.
So this discussion got me thinking about the deep love affair between PRs/Media & booze...a saucy hook-up it is indeed, and one that has no plans of breaking up anytime soon. We throw parties where it's consumed, we attend awards nights for mixologists, we run promotions to get people to drink more of it and we launch the alcohol brands themselves. I've often heard PRs (yes, including myself) joking "I get paid to drink", "I have to drink this because the sponsors are here" and my fave, "But I'm not partying, this is my job!" The fact that it's not only always present, but FREE can lead to rampant over-indulging. And the reason that some people look at fashion/lifestyle PRs as Champagne-swilling party gals is because, well, that is often what we look like from the outside.

Amy Cooper from The Sun-Herald agrees with this reality on the media side too, stating that "the pub is the journalist's University." Young cadets will spend hours boozing it up with the old hacks simply to be a part of their world and learn. If you want an insight into the role alcohol plays in a journo's world you must read Tabloid Girl by Sharon Marshall (in fact if you want an insight into the whole world of tabloid journalism it's a Summer must-read.)

So if you're a young PR, how do you navigate your way around this alcohol-drenched playground you've found yourself in, without falling off the slippery dip? One newbie PR munchkin says: "I always understood that being in PR would mean a lot of events and parties, but never to the scale that I'm witnessing. Nowadays it's a rare night that goes by without at least one drink, usually four. I wouldn't be surprised if a Lindsay Lohan/Betty Ford-esque getaway is in my near future."

Learning to drink
There's one skill that most PRs will acquire after some time in this biz, and that's actually  learning how to drink. While this could be viewed by some as potentially destructive, I think it's positive because if you do choose to drink on occasion - and most do - it's best you know how to handle it. I'm talking about being able to monitor yourself. Being able to drink without it affecting your speech/vision/ability to walk. And most importantly, knowing when it's time to take yourself home before anybody else suggests you do. Seriously, it boggles my mind how many people do not know their limit. I believe most people should know what theirs is well and truly by the age of 21. I'm talking the number of drinks you can have before you get tipsy and the number you can have before you need to cast yourself off the island. For some people it's just 1, for some it's 15. For most it's about 5. I know some people in their 30's who STILL don't know their limit. Most PRs do, except of course...The Drunk Publicist.

The Drunk Publicist
For years I warned my staff about The Drunk Publicist, a not-so-fictional character I created based on a few people around town, to warn them of the perils of drinking on the job. I always discussed The Drunk Publicist with an ominous tone...usually followed by raucous laughter - but the message was certainly serious.
Getting drunk at your own event is unprofessional and potentially career suicide, as mentioned in my previous blog How To Lose A Job In PR. One Sydney PR, lets call her Nelly Nappypants, became so inebriated at her own event at an upscale Sydney bar that she actually wet herself. Like, really obviously and yes, everybody saw. Alcohol is all around us in PR-Ville so you have to be really careful with it...let's all learn a lesson from young Nelly.

Industry Peer Pressure
Amy Cooper - also affectionately known as Cocktail Amy - has recently had to stop drinking for a few months due to a non-serious health issue. Amy's job involves going to parties for a living,
and for anyone in this industry who's done Ocsober or Dry July, not drinking at media events can be difficult, as well as an eye-opening experience. "It makes you realise that alcohol has become a part of our identity in this industry. When people offer me a drink and I decline, they immediately want to know why. When I mention it's for a health issue, they are almost unanimously relieved that there's a valid reason." I myself did Ocsober in 2008, and went out practically every night. Yes it was hard, but also quite an adventure. And I concur with Amy, that for some reason the fact that you're not drinking somehow becomes the major topic of the night. People are shocked, curious, inquisitive, and will usually see if they can break you. Hilarious, much?

Meet the party girl who never drinks.
Ruby Jacenko is a 21 yr old Eastern Suburbs lass who loves a party. They're a dime a dozen, right? Well she's about the only one I know of who doesn't drink. Not a drop. I admit I've always wondered why: Does she not like the taste? Does she not like the way she feels when she gets boozy? Is she a recovering alcoholic? Or is she secretly doing lines of coke every night instead? So I asked her, and none of these are the reasons - she doesn't touch drugs either. In fact, she absolutely loved drinking when she was a teenager as teenagers do. She simply decided at the age of 18 that it wasn't for her (I do love the irony that when she was finally legally allowed to drink, she decided not to.) "I hate it when people say they have to have a drink to have a good time. It's crazy - I always have fun wherever I go. I simply don't need to drink." And do people try to push it on her? "All the time. My friends don't really do it because they know what the answer will be, but people I've just met sometimes can't believe it and put drinks in my hands - the whole bit. Funnily enough, alot of guys seem to find it really attractive. I often get asked out on dates just after I ask for a lemonade." Take note girls!

Meet the PR who can't drink.
Back in '98 I was working in a PR company in London, and at 21 was duly fascinated by my boss. She was of the old-school Ab Fab-style PR - glamourous looking with a booming voice, filthy mouth and a glass of Champagne permanently in her hand. I loved her. Then one day she became ill, and it turned out to be cirrhosis of the liver. At 31 years old and at the height of her career, she was told she could never drink again. Ever. Even a glass of Champagne at her wedding. We lost touch once I left London and I wonder how she coped with that. It's one thing to choose not to drink, but to be told you can't is another matter. Like people who say they don't want children - to then be told they actually can't have them can be a shocking blow.

I love that working in this industry means our work life and social life are rolled into one. It suits me, and I like to think I manage it well. In my early 20's yes - I did struggle to find balance, but I eventually learnt. The important thing is to appreciate the joys of alcohol and the abundance of the free stuff - without losing your head, or your job, in the process. Never drink at your own events. I'm allowed 'cos I'm the boss (hehe) but even I had only 2 drinks during Social Diary Sleepover. True - it was difficult to drink with a bed strapped to my back, but noone wants to see a boozy gal on stage. Enjoy some cocktails after the proceedings are done. Have a blinding mid-week knees-up when you want to but be aware that you'll have to back it up the next day. I was the proud winner of the Spin "Berocca" Award 2 years running for my ability to do this. We're not angels, but if you have a big night - own it. Don't be a hot mess in the office the morning after. If you find yourself having too many boozy benders, check yourself. If you don't you could find yourself with health issues, a cranky boss, an irate partner, debts and a not-so-stellar reputation faster than you can say "This is my last drink then I'm going home I swear!" If I had a dollar for every time...

If you'd like to join Mike, Benn, Amy & I on our non-drinking silly season quest, I salute you. Go to and choose any time period you like.

xxx Tiff

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