As the showbiz PR genius behind the Spice Girls, Rolling Stones, The Who, Amy Winehouse and David Bowie – among a host of other legendary music acts – Alan Edwards has seen it all.
From dropping his mobile down the toilet right before announcing Geri Halliwell’s departure, to being kept waiting eight hours by Keith Richards in a derelict room in Shepperton, the music public relations guru has experienced his fair share of ups and downs on his journey to the top of one of the most glamorous industries.
The mastermind behind ‘Brand Beckham’ and CEO of The Outside Organisation revealed, as part of Time Inc‘s Inspired Conversations, all the things he’s learnt from over four decades experience in celebrity PR.
1. You can develop the skills for your particular line of work a little by accident
“When I was a kid I was sports mad, and I tended to buy a lot of newspapers to read up on the scores. However, seeing how different newspapers covered stories differently actually taught me a lot about the media. I also developed my love of music at the same time from reading so much, and started talking about it a lot. So by the age of 12 I actually had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to eventually do.”
2. You never know which experiences will turn out to be useful for your career in the end
“With limited qualifications, my main achievement was winning a News of the World competition as a teen. Later on, working in advertising became a great lesson in turning a negative into a positive as a spent the majority of the time on the tube reading great novels. After that, a conversation with a friend in a pub led to me travelling to India. I really can say that I went to the ‘university of life’.”
3. Perseverance is key for success
“I was 23-years-old when I became the PR for the Rolling Stones. I had flown to New York to be interviewed by Mick Jagger, and had assumed I got the job. However, three weeks later Keith Richards rang me and told me to meet him in Shepperton at midnight that evening if I still wanted to get the position. He kept me waiting for eight hours, and then gave my music knowledge a grilling. Soon afterwards, they gave me the role.”
4. Stamina is so important when it comes to work
“In PR and journalism you tend to wake up early and be on what’s going on in the media immediately. Then often in the evening you’ll be at an event and working until late at night. I travelled on the Rolling Stones’ European tour in 1981 and 1982, and found myself working up to 20-hours days. PR is no nine to five job.”
5. Trust your instinct
“Clients always ask how I think the public will react in response to a certain event, and you say well they’ll probably feel this way. Always tell the truth.”
6. Listen to your mentor
“When I first worked in music PR for Keith Altham, the former NME editor, he gave me two pieces of advice. The first, was to always return people’s phone calls. The second, to buy people a half pint if you were paying, but to ask for a full pint if it was on them.”
7. Remember the core of what you do
“The key to the media is content and great stories. You’ve got to trust that an intelligent client and an intelligent writer will have a great conversation, and the interview will produce a great read. PRs often forget that the message is the key, and they can find themselves side-tracked by delivery.”
8. You can’t force creativity
“Ideas come when they come. They’re like butterflies, you’ve just got to catch them when they come.”