31 May 2007

From la-de-dah to ho-de-ho; we’re all working class now....

Skinny profit margins and tightly managed expense accounts mean that PRs have to be towards the top end of middle management before they find themselves travelling business class.

On European flights, the actual bit in the air is pretty much the same as economy, give or take an inch of leg room, so the value-add is the airline lounge.

“No more queuing in Pret with tattooed Northerners for you Mr Middle Management, come sit in our lounge and have a free-at-the-point-of-consumption fruit salad, a nice cup of coffee and a selection of newspapers.”

While it’s a privilege to be able to sit somewhere away from the madding crowd, the business lounge atmosphere is an odd one. Everyone there is obviously doing reasonably well in their career, and all are conscious they might bump into an important colleague or contact. As a result the majority of people are overtly polite. Even those that normally flounce around the office being all self-important tend to tone it down to merely a façade of ‘pensively busy.’ Whilst not actually friendly, they are certainly more courteous than normal.

A bit like in the workplace, no-one wants to admit they don’t know what they’re doing which leads to undignified bumbling at the coffee machines, and many nonchalant strolls before people actually find the toilet (frequented for Molton Brown hand wash, as much as nature’s requirements).

The over-bearing stench of business chic does rather give the game away that, for most of the people there, this is all actually a little bit fun. Heck, there’s even a spa in most of these places.

Enjoying the surroundings perhaps a tad too much, TWL had sufficient time to browse the opinion pieces in the Financial Times. A whimsy rarely afforded to one’s self in the office.

An indulgent folly from Jonathan Guthrie caught the eye, discussing the revival of Butlin’s. It’s a sound investment apparently, along with caravan parks and other domestic holiday haunts for the increasingly affluent working class. And here’s where it starts to go horribly wrong as Guthrie turns to, presumably, the only ‘working class’ person he knows for a view from the coal face.

“She stayed at the Minehead resort ‘with her Mark’ last year, she said. ‘There were dust bunnies under the beds,’ she clucked. And it narked them that premium rate guests sat in a better restaurant. This year they’re going to Egypt.”

The pomposity slapped TWL in the face. Why the Dick van Dyke ‘with her Mark’ colloquialism? Why does she ‘cluck’ rather than ‘say?’ Why use a word like ‘narked?’ Because she’s working class? Because she’s a bit of a thicko? Because Guthrie knows she won’t be reading the FT, as she’s a bit common?

An FT columnist is a prime business lounge candidate. Business lounge folk are, by and large, reasonably senior people working for an organisation they don’t own (bar a few shares perhaps).

Robert Madge, when he very much owned Madge Networks, for example, tended to opt for EasyJet in that very nice practical approach that entreprenuers often adopt (self-made millionaires don’t need the ego-rub of business lounges, thank you very much). The flash and/or super successful, meanwhile, will be first class or private jet. In short, the business lounge is for the career-orientated chattering classes as opposed to the Times Rich List.

But Guthrie and, at a guess, the average frequenter of a business lounge would never consider themselves working class. They are above van drivers, plumbers and nannies. They are travelling business class…..working for someone else, as part of a company they don’t own. Humm, see you in the business lounge Guthrie. And see you at Butlin’s….


grantie said...

Do PR people really ever fly business class anymore? I thought those days had gone and we all flew cattle class now? At least, that's what my clients keep telling me... and my Board... come to think of it my missus tells me that too and then at boarding time says "OK we're in different seats, I'll just, erm, see you on the other side ok darling?"

Anonymous said...

Guthrie is a working-class prole, just like the rest of us, whether he knows it or not.

Bollocks to the class structure - if you 'work' then you are working-class. Business class lounges invariably contain some of the worst types of 'Alan Sugar apprentice wannabees' - an anthropologist's dream.....or should that be nightmare...?