I discover that the Red Arrows had no policy for public relations - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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I discover that the Red Arrows had no policy for public relations

When I visited the Team's admin office towards the end of my first week, I was shown an enormous backlog of mail addressed to the Team from members of the public asking for information about the Red Arrows. It appeared that no-one was responsible for answering the letters and the admin clerks were fully occupied with normal squadron administration. The backlog, much of it unopened, stretched back several months. Being generous by nature, I assumed that the Team Leader and Team Manager must have been unaware of this backlog.

Any visitors to the Teams' HQ were escorted by two young ladies, one with an arm in plaster and the other with a leg in plaster. The ladies were student officers from the RAF College at Cranwell who had been injured during their initial officer training. Injured students, not always female of course, were withdrawn from formal training until they were fully fit again. As a temporary measure they were moved onto the Medical and Special Holding Flight which was, inevitably, known colloquially as MASH Flight, a term hated, and eventually proscribed, by the College authorities. Those two young ladies were, perhaps unsurprisingly, very keen on their job at the Red Arrows and they obviously enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere amongst the pilots well away from the strict discipline of the RAF College. However, I considered that using damaged student officers with plastered limbs to host public visitors gave out the wrong message. By the time those ladies were fit enough to resume their training at Cranwell, I had made alternative arrangements.

At the start of my second week, when I had found time to visit the Red Arrows Team HQ only twice because of the growing pile of low flying complaints which always had to be handled expeditiously, I decided that I would have to do my own thing. I kept a low profile for a week while I visited every section of the station and tested the waters. There was, I believed, much more to PR than merely entertaining visitors, corporate or public, or posting brochures, stickers and photographs to fans. If I was required to spend 75% of my time working on Red Arrows PR, which is what the Commandant had told me to do, then I would have to define my tasks myself - and those tasks were what I wrote into my own Terms of Reference, although as I mentioned earlier I never saw the published version - if there was one.

It appeared to me that even 25 years after their first performance the Team did not have a policy about public relations. PR was something that happened at major air displays during the summer when the Red Arrows and their aircraft were operating from the same airfield as the display; then PR consisted of pilot's chatting to punters and autographing their programmes and gizzits but little else. The Team Manager, Red 10, was the obvious man to deal with the media at public displays because he was the red-suited Commentator and safety man and, therefore, had to be present at every display. The Commandant had told me during my initial interview that I was not expected to travel to any of the displays, not because there was no requirement for publicity, but because there was no money in the budget to pay for my travel and subsistence. I was actually quite relieved when he told me that; much as I had always enjoyed watching the Red Arrows perform, I certainly had no wish to spend most of the display season away from base.

There was no system for sending out, either to the media or to the general public, regular news updates about the Team's activities. In my earlier days as the station PRO at Finningley, Gaydon and Marham my station commanders were not at all keen about any PR about their station for security reasons. My job had then mainly consisted of editing or writing the station newspaper - which always had to be vetted and approved by the station commander before I published it. Clearly, one of my first jobs for the Red Arrows, and to a lesser extent the station and CFS, would be to generate an entirely new approach to local, regional and national publicity.

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