I first met Greg Shand in early 1994. Initially he was not happy to see me. I was an ‘expensive’ hire, with no experience of the New Zealand market and I was not his hire. He was pretty explicit on all these counts at the outset. But we quickly got past that and worked well together and became firm friends.
I have worked with many people who have moved from journalism to PR. Most that succeed do so by trying hard to fit in to PR ways of working. Greg succeeded by running an agency like a newsroom. From morning conference to sweating speeches, white papers and features it was always about the content with Greg. Client proposals were like novels when the rest of the world had moved on to bullet points. He had to write to know what he thought. And so we all did. And he collected around him some of the best writers and editors in the country. And the output was fast, accurate and incisive aided by critique from Greg and your peers that was usually withering, witty but ultimately helpful.
Perhaps this approach was born of a time before social media democratized communications and prioritized other forms of content and seems quaint now. But sometimes I wonder if the emphasis on the craft of what we do has been lost as our industry has moved from the written, to the visual, the video and the shared.
Certainly Greg would cause chaos in any modern agency. Not just for his laser focus on the task at hand and bugger everything else, but the way in which he got the rest of us lined up behind him. Cuffs around the ear, loud public doubting of the existence of your parents and much laboured over scripts thrown back at you defaced with his graffiti like subbing; “fucking do it again and get it right this time”. And watch out if your “ducks were not in a row” or you were not “first cab off the rank”. There were plenty of plaudits, drinks and ciggies too, but receiving a ‘Shanding’ as it became known was a rite of passage.
Through all this he created a real sense of team and a pride in the quality of what was produced. If you got it past Greg then the client was going to be a walkover.
And he brought a swagger and glamour to proceedings. Yesterday at his funeral a close friend revealed that when he picked up Greg’s personal belongings from the police station he was given the keys to his Aston Martin, a packet of cigarettes, an iPhone and a betting slip. “A sophisticated man with simple pleasures” he remembered. Greg was also a big man with a shock of thick blonde hair and a voice that could boom and project. When we walked into meetings and pitches he took all the attention and so all of the pressure off us. He led from the front.
Another talent was spotting talent and then nurturing it. For all his gruff fierceness he was generous with his time and appreciative that younger members of staff were desperate for his attention and advice. If they were willing to learn he would commit to them and champion them in their careers even when they left his firm.
Since retiring two years ago, Greg struggled to find a new outlet for his restless intellect and energy. He was a man born to be in the middle of a busy newsroom or client crisis and for those of us who spent time with him in this period it was sometimes difficult to witness his frustration. Even more so for his three kids and numerous past wives and girlfriends. He was not an easy man, but he was brilliant and generous and made the world a brighter place. Greg would have subbed that last phrase as being formulaic, but in this case it is true. So I will leave it.
I will miss him dreadfully.