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My PR Moment: ‘You’re thrown in at the deep end,’ Oracle's Paul de Lara recalls his busiest day

Paul de Lara


“I very much remember it as the single day of my career where I've had the toughest calls with journalists, and you look back and think; that's what it's all about."  - Paul de Lara, senior director, corporate communications director EMEA at Oracle


Having already worked in the industry for over 25 years at businesses such as Canon (1997-2000) and Skype (2009-2010), Paul de Lara who is now senior director, corporate communications EMEA at Oracle casts his mind back to 2012 when he was international corporate PR manager at tech giant Hewlett Packard (HP), to recall his most memorable moment in PR.

The context

In 2012, the British CEO of Autonomy, which was acquired by HP in 2011 for $11bn, Mike Lynch was dismissed. The company also announced its quarterly earnings, alongside a major redundancy programme on the same day as Lynch’s departure.

The morning afterwards, de Lara was running the PR desk and clocked in at 7.30am with his phone ready to go. “A well-known British executive was leaving the company and it was about to make a significant reduction to its headcount on a global level, so it was quite big news,” says de Lara.

“Moments like this are when you find out if you’re actually any good at this lark. You’re thrown in the deep end, are you going to swim or not? It's scary." - Paul de Lara, senior director, corporate communications director EMEA at Oracle

The moment

De Lara recalls: “The reason why this was quite an incredible day, and why I remember it so well, is that the first phone call of the day was from BBC Radio 4 Today and the last was from BBC News at 10.

“So literally from 7:25am, I’m sat knowing the results had come out the night before, and my first call was from a researcher at BBC Radio 4 Today. I gave him a background comment and within five minutes the BBC had reported what I said as a spokesperson for HP.”

He smiles and adds: “My words were on BBC. And, from that moment on, every major reporter from tech desks, local and national newspapers were calling me.”

De Lara says that in such moments, a PR professional will find out if they are good at handling the pressure. “You’re petrified of saying the wrong thing,” he says.

“In media training they tell you to keep a charger with your phone because the battery quickly runs out [from overuse]. I was literally getting off a call to find voicemails from journalists wanting to be called back.”

The press wanted to know specifics about the potential of redundancies in HP hubs across the UK, but de Lara had to remain unwavering as his phone rang off the hook with calls from time-pressed journalists.

“After all of those years of crisis relations and media, I thought, ‘my God, I’m on the frontline. And one of the journalists that called me was renowned for being tough, direct and not to suffer fools.

“You’re petrified of saying the wrong thing." - Paul de Lara, senior director, corporate communications director EMEA at Oracle

“After the call had ended he actually told me I handled [his questioning] really well, because I knew he was going to try different angles to get me to say something to him I haven’t to anyone else.”

The main question of the day, says de Lara, was that after acquiring Autonomy the tech giant had a lot of its workforce based out of Autonomy’s HQ in Cambridge. As HP is an American-owned company and based off the West Coast, de Lara points out that the time difference caused him a spot of bother as he couldn’t get any information until late afternoon UK time.

“You’re on your own and you have to hold as much as you can, because I can ask HQ and they will come back, but it won’t be till the evening. It was also obvious that what was happening at Autonomy was becoming a big deal.”

He was eventually given, or potentially pushed for, confirmation to comment on redundancies in Cambridge and, luckily, the BBC News at 10 team gave him a call at 9.50pm to see if he was still gagged.

“Sometimes a journalist asks a question because they’ve been told to [by their editor] and they know they won’t get the answer. There’s nothing better than to be able to surprise the journalist and say ‘yes I can answer that question’, and I confirmed there wouldn’t be any redundancies in Cambridge.”

“You can tell the journalist is thinking, ‘oh wow I’ve got a story’ and within 10 minutes the BBC headline news that evening was HP’s confirmation on Cambridge redundancies.”

The takeaway

“You start the day with a call, and spend the whole day on the phone. It was bloody hard work but it gives you a sense of what a news story looks like, and for PR it gives a real insight into what a fast moving newsroom looks like, what these journalists are like and how they approach news.

“I very much remember it as the single day of my career where I've had the toughest calls with journalists, and you look back and think; that's what it's all about.

“Moments like this are when you find out if you’re actually any good at this lark. You’re thrown in the deep end, are you going to swim or not? It's scary. It gave me the credibility to say I did that story. The relationships you build with journalists at that stage [is good] because you earn their respect because you handled it in a professional way. It helped enormously and made me more confident in myself that I can really do that stuff and put my skills to the test.”


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