In My Opinion: Gordon Robertson: Why did we let the cameras in, for a fly-on-the-wall documentary?

WHEN I talk to fellow communications people about our BBC ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary, I get similar responses: polite noises and head nods, all with a look that says, ‘Have you taken leave of your senses?’

It’s one of the unwritten rules, along with ‘never go on Newsnight’, that all PRs should adhere to: Reality TV is a risk.

I think it’s about lack of control. We PR people are control freaks – controlling, messages, images, tone, brands, etc. It’s what we’re paid to do.

And when you hand your organisation over to a TV production company and allow cameras in, behind-the-scenes, you lose that control. In its place comes vulnerability and exposure.

To make good TV, you can’t have editorial control. It’d just be propaganda then and it’d be boring. Sure, you can negotiate clauses that allow input and discussion, but, at the end of the day, the control is not with you.

So the main thing that you need when entering into this uncomfortable situation (at least, for a PR person) is trust.

You need trust in the production company. You need to look the director and the producer in the eye and decide.

“Can I trust you?”

”Can we work together?”

“Do we share the same vision?”

Of course, there’s tension in that relationship. They want good TV, we want control.

You also need trust in your team. And, by that, I mean the wider airport team. Edinburgh Airport Limited employs 500 people but the airport itself supports 5,000 jobs. It’s like a mini town, with lots of different kinds of organisations all working together for our passengers.

We needed to trust that the team would naturally show itself in the best light, without priming and preparing from controlling communications teams; that they’d bring out the dedication, humour and warmth that we see every day.

So, in that respect, it can be a bit of a leap into the unknown.

We decided to take the leap because, when we questioned ourselves, we thought that we have an interesting story to tell – Scotland’s biggest airport, sold for hundreds of millions and striking out on its own to win new routes and establish itself as a standalone business.

But we also trusted ourselves, our partners and our airline customers to give a true representation of our airport. We knew that there’s a very real human element to what we do and that the personality and the character of the airport would burst through.

We also trusted the production company and the team at the production company, Sundog, and BBC Scotland – which has commissioned the programme – has not let us down.

What are we trying to achieve?

Well, we believe that one of the reasons that we’re successful is not what we do or when we do it (although that’s vital) but how we do it.

And that culture, that ‘how’ is difficult to get over in a media release or a blog. It’s something that needs to be demonstrated.

We’ve been asked a lot recently about our culture and how we do things. People want to know why we’ve been successful and we thought that this might be a great vehicle to show our culture in action.

So we leapt.

I have to say that it’s been a great experience. There are bits that, as the ‘PR person’, make me flinch. It’s, in parts, raw and difficult. The bits that we’d normally hide or sanitise are right up there on prime time TV.

But it’s honest, warm, funny, open and interesting. It has character and it shows our personality. It gives a great account of the airport as a whole and the people that work in it.

Hopefully, it shows what a difficult, complex and challenging industry we’ve chosen to work in – and how much we love it.

So, I’ll be prepared for the strange looks. It’s been worth it.

Gordon Robertson is director of Communications of Edinburgh Airport.

Part one of the two-part ‘Inside Edinburgh Airport’ was broadcast on BBC One Scotland last night. Part two is being broadcast next Thursday, the 24th, at 2100.