Great white dopes

The relationship between a writer and  a public relations person is a little like that between a great white shark and a pilot fish. 

The shark acts as if he needs nothing, often treating his little companions with indifference and even disdain, but in fact he relies heavily on a mutual relationship with the small fish to keep him free of parasites.

Whether we writers like it, we need our PR colleagues as much as they need us. And for that reason, the relationship is mainly an amiable one, especially in an area such as drinks, where difficult questions requiring challenging answers are few and far between. Sometimes, though, it’s hard for us predators not to react to the role of the PR person without hilarity or even pity. And in recent months it seems we have had more chance to do this than normal.

The PR person’s job is to ‘sell’ a story to the journalist, no matter how unpalatable or ridiculous that story is. Imagine you’re a PR person and your company takes on a new client: the Syrian government or Sepp Blatter, for instance. What do you do? Well, you have to grin and bear it.

And going from the slime to the ridiculous, what do you do if your job is to sell in a story about a peaty whisky being sent into space, or a whisky that has been made while a bagpiper played to it, or a whisky company that has hired Mel Gibson to shout ‘Freedom’ while the malt casks are being emptied?

Take this gem which arrived recently: “A collaboration between Celtic Connections and Glasgow’s Drygate Brewing Company has produced the world’s first beer infused with Celtic music. The beer – named Festival Brew – has been infused with live music throughout the brewing and maturation process and has been created to be paired with live performances at Celtic Connections 2016. 

“A Celtic piper and acoustic guitarist played alongside the brewing team at Drygate. Microphones placed inside the fermentation tanks will ensure the beer continues to infuse with Celtic music throughout the two week conditioning process.”  

Matt Corden – operations director at Drygate – spoke more about the collaboration: “Beer is traditionally brewed with just four ingredients. In this instance, we’re adding a fifth – music – and can’t wait to taste the finished result.” Really, I asked the PR person. She didn’t reply directly, but re-sent the press release, just in case I hadn’t understood first time.

In their attempts to make their beers, whiskies and particularly vodkas stand out from the pack, the drinks companies are going to increasingly ludicrous extremes. As Smirnoff global brand ambassador Matt Bruhn put it: “The claims are becoming more and more ridiculous. Have you heard of the vodka whose manufacturers claim every single drop of it is poured over the bare breasts of a virgin?”

What next? Scotch whisky filtered through a used kilt? Vodka distilled in a mountain-top Tibetan monastery? Gin aged in coconut shells?

Pity the poor pilot fish trying to feed off such slim pickings. And spare a thought for us, too. After all it’s not easy being a fierce shark when you can hardly suppress
the laughter.