Liz Chilcott 'poisoning' her husband

PR promoting poison?

Magical stories

I’ve said before that I love working with Chilcotts Auctioneers – not just because they’re such nice people, but also because the stories they give me to work with are just magical in terms of PR.

Previously I’ve put together press stories on a whalebone that once belonged to explorer Ernest Shackleton, diaries written by a Japanese war camp internee, and a Chinese moonflask that sold for nearly £500K.

The ‘poison’ flagon

The most recent task was around a flagon that once contained a ‘cure-all’, quack medicine. This was nothing like the moonflask in value, being valued at a much more modest figure of £100, but the back story was just as interesting to research.

Microbe KillerGod bless the internet for giving me lots of resource to discover the truth behind William Radam’s ‘Microbe Killer’, invented in the late 19th century as a way to kill microbes in humans, thus defying many ailments – in theory. Although it was 99% water, the liquid also contained 0.59 sulphuric acid, 0.016 sulphurous acid and ash – and this was thought to have killed the grandfather of the vendor of the flagon, who had taken too much of it.

A great story in itself, but as usual Liz and Duncan Chilcott rose to the occasion magnificently when asked to pose for a photograph to accompany the press release. Liz cheerfully gave the pretence of wanting to poison her husband with a large ladle of the Microbe Killer – and of course, the press loved it.

Coverage

The story was picked up by regional press, including Western Morning News (who gave me a byline, much appreciated), Express & Echo and the Midweek Herald. It also attracted a lot of interest on social media.

I always have a sense of anticipation when I go to my monthly meeting with Chilcotts – what fantastic story will they give me to PR this time?

The black pudding team

Cooking on blood – PR for black pudding

PR is sometimes seen as a glamorous job – think awards ceremonies, schmoozing, freebies. In fact, for most of us it’s far more belt and braces, and occasionally in my case, gory.

PR for black pudding

It can be quite a challenge, as someone who is pretty much a vegetarian, to work with a business that’s basically all about meat. However, knowing as I do that the meat is sourced from animals raised only with the highest welfare standards, no factory farming here, I am 100% behind my client, chef Robin Rea of Rusty Pig.

So when Robin told me he was working with Dr Jan Davison to try out eight traditional black pudding recipes, some from the 18th century, I dropped by with my camera and notepad.

PR for black puddingBlack pudding, you may know, is basically made from blood. I watched as jugs of blood were poured into bowls with various other ingredients, mixed by hand and put to simmer on the stove. Delightful.

What was really interesting was the basis for the tests. Jan is delivering a paper to the Oxford Food & Cookery Symposium looking at how offal was once used for dishes for the wealthiest people in the land, including the Royal Family. I learned how ingredients such as ambergris, rosewater and penny royal were used in black pudding. And how one recipe called for a porpoise (which I’m pleased to say was a recipe not used).

This fascinating story was picked up in the local press, allowing for the promotion of Rusty Pig’s ‘Bourbon & Black’ event, where diners will be able to try out the black puddings. I’m going along, but Robin has promised to make me a veggie black pudding for the occasion.

This is the one and only occasion that I might be justified in writing the words, ‘bloody PR’!

Goats milk chocolates from Chocolats de Caprine

All in the name of feature writing

Feature creature

Sometimes, my occasional forays into the world of feature writing bring unexpected pleasure.

For the upcoming Devon Life Food & Drink issue, I proposed a feature on Caprine de Chocolats, a chocolate maker in Torrington making chocs from goats milk. I felt, in the name of research, the need to test out some of said chocolates, and duly placed an order. A tantalising selection of 12 chocs arrived in the post a few days’ later.

Now, it’s no secret amongst my inner (and outer) circle that I’m a bit of chocaholic. I’m the type that is fine as long as a wrapper is on the chocolate, but as soon as the chocolate is exposed to the air, I am driven to finish it. Chocolate goes off very quickly, you know. But these goats milk chocolates are something else again. Rich, and bursting with depth and flavour. One is enough for a day. Or I might manage two, at a push.

They must have a bit of creative juice in them too, as eating the chocolate led me to think of a new way to approach the article. The words were truly lit up by the taste experience provided by the cacoa.

Learning something new

Feature writing isn’t going to make me a rich woman, unless I secure an interview with Lord Lucan. However, it does give me the opportunity to try things out that I wouldn’t normally contemplate, and discover new things about life in Devon and beyond. Going up in a glider (and flying it for a hairy minute or two); researching all the spooky legends of Dartmoor; finding out what it is that makes people want to play in a brass band; learning about herbalism, taking off in a tiny aircraft and watching people throw themselves out of it (I was tempted).

Some features have led me to new PR clients. I met Amos Lighting when I wrote a piece about lighting for Devon Homes Magazine, and Rusty Pig when I interviewed chef Robin Rea for Devon Life. And over the past few years I’ve noticed that feature writing is making me a better writer in other aspects of my work; press releases, blog posts and even social media posts. I’ve been writing for years, but I’m a firm believer that you never stop learning. Hey, until recently I never really used the; semi-colon; now I’m overusing it; I am.

So what’s up next? Next week I meet the two men behind Christopher Piper Wines – I’m sure I’ll learn something there and be able to amaze my wine-quaffing friends with my in-depth knowledge of the Bordeaux region. Watch this space.

Editors Lunch Take Two

I am not quite sure how it happened, but last year I was roped into organising a lunch for some of our regional editors. They had such a good time that they asked me to do it all over again.

Editors Lunch Patrick Phelvin and Jeff CooperThis time, we added the new editor of the Express & Echo, Patrick Phelvin, to the mix. He joined Andy Cooper, editor of Devon Life, Anna Britten, editor of Exeter Living, Jeff Cooper, editor of Taste Buds and Becky Sheaves, editor of West Magazine, Western Morning News.

Our destination was Jack in the Green, a fantastic foodie pub that sits on the old A30, away from the madding crowd but conveniently close to Exeter, and Andy Cooper’s office. We were all slightly shocked to see the encroachment of the Cranbrook development – with building work taking place right next to the pub’s car park.

It was great to hear our local editors’ commitment to environment. Anna bravely decided to take a bus from Exeter (though she willingly accepted a lift back into the city with Becky), and Patrick told us about his fold up cycle used to get himself into the Echo offices. Shades of W1A sprang to mind.

Everyone enjoyed the amazing food – I could have eaten my Capricorn goat’s cheese with raspberry twice over. Everyone ordered something different, from fish pie to Piper’s Farm chicken. The food was flawless. Although we ducked out of desserts due to time pressures, the plates of choccies that came with the coffees.

I am not allowed to repeat any of our conversation (Chatham House rules apply) let’s just say it was all very illuminating, and entertaining. The world of print is having a hard time, but these Editors lunch napkineditors are committed to print for the long-term, and I’m right with them on that. Okay, you can read up-to-date news on your laptop, desktop, tablet or phone in the blink of an eye, but there’s nothing quite like the feel of a newspaper, or magazine, with a cup of tea (or even a glass of cider) and a little bit of time to indulge.

Roll on the next Editors Lunch.

 

Raising the Rafters

A couple of months’ ago I received a call from a choir. Now, I’ve worked with many, varied clients to provide PR support, from big corporates like Thames Water and Lloyds Bank, to new businesses such as Barrel Top Wagons and Baking Matters. But this was something a little different.
The Exeter Philharmonic Choir has been singing for some 160 years, although none of the original members now remain (sorry, had to pop that in). I’ve lived in East Devon for nearly 20 years, and I had never heard of them. To be fair, this might be because I’ve never had a relationship with choral music; theatre, comedy, pop music, films, those are more my line.
The choir, it transpires, perform in three major concerts a year, plus Christmas Carols at Exeter Cathedral. So what did they want from me? I may have Grade 3 in singing, but I’m not sure I’m the soprano I once was. Of course, it transpired the choir needed to let more people know about their concerts, in particular the March concert at the Cathedral. They had taken a decision to try PR, and my name had come up to provide PR support.
Exeter Philharmonic Choir Concert PosterThe concert was intriguing – a sea-themed extravaganza featuring pieces by Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams and the debut of The Seafarer, written by Andrew Millington. Andrew was Director of Music for Exeter Cathedral until last year, and is the choir’s conductor. His piece was written around the Exeter Book, an Anglo Saxon book kept at the Cathedral.
I knew this was going to be a challenge, as performance PR is uncharted territory for me. But I found it really inspiring – the members of the choir are so committed, the choir is, of course, non-profit, and the story behind Andrew’s new piece was intriguing – and a good hook.
So I’ve spent the past two months writing and distributing press releases, speaking to magazine and editors, talking to radio and TV and supplementing the choir’s social media output. I was very fortunate to receive support from all the lovely local media, with the event receiving coverage in Exeter Living, Exeter Life, Western Morning News, BBC Radio Devon and more. Thank you all. And with a bit of forward planning, I have secured a feature article with Devon Life, with photographs taken (at the concert rehearsal) by the ever-talented Matt Austin.
Finally, the night of the performance came round, and the choir had kindly invited me to go along. I turned up at the Cathedral with layers (it can be cold in these places!) with a friend who had far more experience of this type of performance, being Welsh and a wonderful singer.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the concert blew my socks off. The choir were amazing, the soloists impressive, the orchestra, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, just fabulous. They all enjoyed themselves and received a massive amount of applause afterwards, particularly Mr Millington.
From what I could see, there were lots of people in the audience. I’ve yet to find out how numbers compare to previous events, but I do hope my work had a positive effect. If all went well then I’ll be starting to work out a PR strategy for the choir’s concert in October, their very first ‘Lord Mayor’s Charity Concert’. Now that should be fun!
Just for a moment I toyed with the idea of auditioning for the choir myself. Just for a moment. Then I remembered I am so much better with words than music. No-one leaves the room when I start writing.

East Devon PR – THAT Chinese vase

What fun I had recently on my home turf, with East Devon PR for clients, Chilcotts. They really do have the best stories and I genuinely love getting involved in the research as we bring the threads of history together.

This time it was one of those chance finds that ends up being worth rather a lot of money. In this case, a Chinese vase, called a ‘moonflask’. Auctioneer and valuer Duncan Chilcott knew he had something extra special when he saw the object – and how right could he be? The rare puce-enamelled blue and white dragon bianhu moonflask sold for just under £500,000 in an auction held in Hong Kong.

Well, apart from racking my brains to remember if I had any Chinese vases in my own home (negative), I wrote up the story and sent it out to the usual suspects. Roger Malone at the Western Morning News got first dibs, he’s a great supporter of Chilcotts, as is Mike Byrne at the Echo. Then things went a little wild. Requests from South West news agencies came in and suddenly there was the news about the vase popped up on many popular online news sites, the BBC, Mirror, Mail and so on and so forth.

Of course, once in the mainstream press, the story morphed into something other than the truth, as it does. Suddenly, the vendor became a man from Devon who found a dusty old vase in the rattic, with much reference made to an episode of Only Fools and Horses.

Daily Mirror

“The man, who has not been named, had no idea of the value of his Chinese antique when he took it to be valued at an auction house.

But just like in the famous Only Fools and Horses episode, he was stunned to discover the family heirloom that had collected dust for decades was worth a fortune.”

This caused a fair amount of hilarity among those who knew the facts. But there was no damage, and Chilcotts was mentioned in a positive light in every case  – what a result!

So what’s the next story going to be, I wonder? I can’t wait!

 

 

PR for inspiring businesses

Working in PR and copywriting brings me into contact with an amazing array of organisations. Some of these are large, established firms and others are small businesses, or start up. There are charities and community initiatives, all needing some help, whether that’s a boost, some advice about social media, or an ongoing PR service.

The last two months have been particularly interesting in terms of the businesses I have been talking to.

  • In Exeter I met Iain Smith, the owner of independent wine shop, Smith’s Wines in Magdalen Road, and ended up writing a feature for Exeter Life.
  • Down in Beer I was introduced to Swimboat for a feature for Devon Life – a little yellow boat that has been designed to accompany open water swimmers. I learned that there are thousands of intrepid swimmers who love to brave the waves for the sheer thrill of open water swimming.
  • I’ve been working with a lovely German nutritionist, Carola Becker, who, after learning to manage her own arthritis naturally, started up ‘Life is Good’ to help others to improve energy, lose weight and generally have a better life through better nutrition and exercise. I’m hoping some of this will rub off on me!
  • A call from Exeter Philharmonic Choir – I wasn’t previously aware Exeter had one – has brought me into contact with the world of composition and classical music, and I look forward to helping them gain more coverage for their concerts in Exeter Cathedral.
  • I also had a long chat with an inspirational lady in North Devon who turned to making chocolates from goats’ milk after her husband was made redundant (Caprine Capers). Having two children myself who were raised on goats rather than cows’ milk, I have a real interest in what she’s doing – hope there’s some taste tests involved….

I’ve blogged about telemarketing, parsnips and buying chocolate by post, I’ve written press releases about electrical testing software and I’ve helped out a friend of a friend who is Asian and needs to find a match donor.

It’s been an extraordinary few months, but such a privilege to learn about so many amazing things that are going on in Devon. I’m wondering what the next few months will bring!

Exeter Magazines – Extra Fun

I’ve been writing for Devon Life from time to time for a couple of years now. Always good fun, I enjoy having the chance to write about a variety of different subjects, from gliding and riding to auctioneers and lady stonemasons.

Recently, however, I’ve had the opportunity to write for two Exeter magazines: Exeter Life and Exeter Living. Exeter Life asked me to write up a visit to Circa 1924 with four different food editors. I’m not a foodie writer so I panicked a little about using the right terminology – there are clearly ways of describing ambiance and food dishes that are not within my usual descriptive vocabulary.

Oh well, at the end of the day it was fine, well illustrated by a photo I took of Devon Life Ed Andy Cooper with a serviette stuffed in his shirt collar.

Exeter Living then approached me to write a feature about Honiton. That was more of a breeze, as I know my local town well, and most of the places to visit, shop, dine and stay. The only problem was the word count was so low that I had a job to cram them all in! Trusty camera to the rescue once again as I ran up and down (and across) the High Street taking photos to illustrate the piece.

Enjoyable stuff. More please!

Thar She Blows!

Want a whalebone that once belonged to an Arctic explorer? Well it’s yours if you want it, just make a bid at the Chilcotts sale in Honiton on November14th.
What a great story this is.
The curious story of the day that intrepid explorer Shackleton, best known for his expedition aboard the ship Endurance that became trapped in an ice floe for nine months in 1915, decided to gift the whalebone to an order of French nuns after they bought his family’s house to turn it into a school for girls.
The humorous story of the whalebone that lay in the school garden in all weathers, before a history teacher realised its significance and removed it indoors for safekeeping.
The historic story of Shackleton’s connection to Torquay – the home his family owned and his residence there in the early 1900s. Of another of his ships, Nimrod, that moored briefly in Torquay harbour in 1907 before setting out on the first of Shackleton’s three Antarctic expeditions.
The sad story of the last of Shackleton’s ships, Quest, being anchored in Anstey’s Cove below the school before setting sail for South Georgia in 1921 – the voyage during which he died.
The fascinating story of Stoodley Knowle School, established in 1925 by the Congregation of Les Filles de la Croix, an order of nuns founded in Paris in 1641 by one Madame de Villeneuve who was driven by passion to provide an education for girls.
The concluding, melancholy story of the closure of the school earlier this year after pupil numbers crumbled.
The perfect story, in fact. Containing drama, history, sorrow, death, and even wildlife, albeit in the shape of a rather large bone. Sometimes I love my job

A chance encounter with history

I am lucky enough to have as one of my PR clients Chilcotts, an auctioneer in Honiton. Please put David Dickinson and ‘cheap as chips’ out of your mind, the world of auctions is actually a fascinating sector to work in. There are so many human interest stories to delve into, and abundance of interesting objects and artefacts to admire.

I recently visited Chilcotts to discuss a collection that has been given to them for their September Fine Arts and Collectors Items sale. Poignantly, due to the VJ Day anniversary celebrations, this includes diaries written by Devon man Lewis Burfitt, who was interned in the Weishien camp in China by the Japanese between 1943 and 1945.

The handwritten diaries give an intriguing insight into life as an internee, recording living conditions, sickness, deaths and births. They tell how the Chinese tried to help by smuggling supplies into the camp, eggs, chickens and even piglets – even though this put them in danger of punishment by the Japanese.

Eric LiddellThere were many who didn’t make it out of the camp, including Eric Liddell, the Scottish athlete who on principle wouldn’t run on Sunday. He was made famous in ‘Chariots of Fire’ but I’d never registered that he died a prisoner of war in China.

I spoke to BBC Radio Devon about the diaries, and they interviewed the nephew of Lewis Burfitt along with auctioneer Duncan Chilcott and Jenny Bell, who has been diligently researching the diaries.

As I was writing the press release, the story became even more moving when I realised that the writer of the diaries had lived and worked in Tiensin where the terrible explosions have just happened.

Getting involved in a story like this at this particular time was a real privilege, as was the opportunity to look through the diaries. It’s easy to feel very removed from the reality of a war that took place so many years ago, but this made me stop, think and remember.