In My Opinion: Derek Masterton: PR, plastic flowers, millionaire shortbread and long johns

THERE’S a giant plastic flower in the corner of my office. It’s a six feet-tall Forget-me-not.

It’s what I stare at when seeking inspiration – that glassy-eyed, 1,000-yard stare that sometimes worries colleagues. I’m told it makes me look a bit vacant, but I don’t care. It works.

Take this blog, for example. Fitting a bit of extra-curricular writing into a hectic and demanding work schedule isn’t always easy but I had some spare time during a lunch break – and a website owner biting my ear to produce something.

I had no idea what weighty media topic of the day to write about. So I stared at the flower…

If anyone had told me four and a bit years ago – just before my previous employer ushered me off, cheque in hand, to tout my talents round the wider market – that I’d one day be sharing my workspace with an over-sized piece of fake flora, my response would have been short, to the point and not awfully polite.

Nowadays, however, I’d think nothing of it. In fact, I’d probably be downright enthusiastic. That’s what happens when you make the quantum leap from tabloid newsroom to charity press desk. It’s one of the differences between working IN the media and working WITH the media.

Working IN the media, you’re used to people staging stunts to provide you with a good photo opportunity.

Working WITH the media, you’re the one who has to dream up the stunts in the first place to (hopefully) earn a good few column inches worth of publicity for your cause.

So, staring at the flower, I started thinking about some of the things I’d been involved in over the last four years that had successfully made it into the pages of our national papers and onto telly. It’s quite an eclectic list.

For openers, there was the giant slab of millionaire’s shortbread with two very cute kids spreading thick chocolate over it (and themselves).

Then there was the very obliging chap who agreed to dress in a pair of long johns and be painted red and white to blend in, camouflage-style, with a fake brick wall at Glasgow School of Art.

And, of course, there was the flower.

They all sound a bit daft, frivolous even, but they were all effective and focussed attention on some very important issues.

The millionaire’s shortbread publicised Red Cross Week – the humanitarian organisation’s annual UK-wide drive to raise vitally-needed funds to help people in crisis at home and abroad.

The man in the long johns was, in fact, a refugee helping to highlight International Day of the Disappeared – a UN-designated day to reflect on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers separated from their loved ones, often because of conflict. He and his young son had been forced to spend four years, 4,000 miles apart before finally finding happiness in Scotland.

Like I say, serious issues which most people aren’t aware of or don’t think about. But with a bit of creativity and a sense of fun it’s possible to change that.

Oh, yes, the giant plastic flower. The six feet-tall Forget-me-not.

It, too, was a symbol used to highlight Day of the Disappeared – on the day that a group of refugees opened the Red Cross Garden of Hope in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.

Some of them had been reunited with their families through the Red Cross International Tracing and Message service. Others were still waiting and hoping.

The garden is a peaceful place where people – anyone – can reflect on life and its tribulations.

Is it so strange, then, that I stare at my flower for inspiration?

Derek Masterton is the media relations officer for the British Red Cross in Scotland. He is a former assistant news editor with the Daily Record, where he was a news journalist for 30 years. He is writing in a personal capacity.