PR on the Ocean Wave

After five years with BLUE, I like to think I’m adept at rising to whatever challenges arise for our shipping clients. But what about running a PR campaign…

After five years with BLUE, I like to think I’m adept at rising to whatever challenges arise for our shipping clients. But what about running a PR campaign at sea? Now that’s different.

The invitation came from Jacob Bliksted Sorensen, the founder of Mission: Safe Ocean and the man who decided to take on the challenge of kitesurfing 1,000km along the east coast of Africa. Jacob approached BLUE when looking for PR support for his expedition, which had two goals; to raise awareness of the root causes of piracy and to raise funds for two charities, the Mission to Seafarers and African Development Solutions (Adeso).

As well as being a big supporter of the Mission to Seafarers, BLUE has a longstanding involvement of working with organisations to combat the threat posed by piracy at sea, including clients in the maritime security sector, and we didn’t hesitate to volunteer our services to support Jacob’s challenge. Which is why, two weeks later, I found myself on the slipway in Dar Es Salaam, ready to join the CQ, the boat that I’d be calling home for the next month.

With Jacob, a support crew of nine (including Zoe, the ship’s dog), we sailed south from Dar Es Salaam to our start point in Pemba, Mozambique. This was where Jacob took to the water for the start of his 1,000km kitesurf journey.

Over the next 24 days, Jacob made his way along the coast of Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, with his support team in close – and sometimes not so close – pursuit. On a good day he could cover over 100km but when the wind dropped, Jacob could spend all day in the water, straining every sinew to get his kite up the air, without making any forward progress.

Often several miles off the coast, Jacob faced considerable physical risks every day, including dangerous rocks and reefs, unexpected encounters with the local sealife (including avoiding a tail-slapping humpbacked whale by just a few meters) and being stranded overnight on a remote island off Mozambique. With time running out during the latter stages of the expedition, Jacob even resorted to kitesurfing after dark to make up the distance. Not recommended!

What about my task of running the PR operation from our floating home in the Indian Ocean? For starters, I’ll never take broadband for granted again! There were times when pushing out a single tweet felt like a major achievement; particularly when bouncing around in choppy seas and fighting off the occasional bout of seasickness. It also required some fairly ruthless prioritising about which fantastic video and photo content of Jacob’s exploits we would be able to upload. Even our power supply was at a premium – we were relying on a diesel generator to charge all onboard computer equipment; cue a frantic search for a repair shop on Zanzibar when it broke down. Not a common problem at BLUE HQ in Oxford!

At the same time as I was busy with my PR duties – whether pitching Jacob’s story to the media, liaising with the comms teams at our sponsor organisations, or sharing social media updates on Jacob’s progress – I had plenty of other tasks, whether running the satphones and GPS trackers to keep tabs on Jacob’s position, helping to launch and retrieve his kite, maintaining our generator or taking on a watch in the small hours.

One of the great lessons was the utter necessity of teamwork. If we were going to stay afloat and keep Jacob safe, let alone achieve the expedition’s goals, it was essential that everyone mucked in with whatever needed doing, that we all clearly understood each others’ roles and that our communication with one another was crystal clear. Not bad lessons for any walk of life.

Three and a half weeks after setting off from Pemba, I was on the beach in Mombasa with the support team and lots of other friends and supporters to cheer Jacob in as he completed his 1,000km journey – with just one day to spare. Along the way, Mission: Safe Ocean raised thousands of dollars for its charities and widespread coverage of the expedition and the causes behind it; not just in the shipping media, but across social media and in the mainstream international press, including the BBC World Service and CNBC. In no small part, this was thanks to having Jacob as such a passionate advocate for Mission: Safe Ocean. His personal commitment to the cause of seafarer welfare and the need to tackle the long-term causes of piracy shone through.

From my perspective and that of BLUE, it was a unique experience and we’re proud to have played our part in all that was achieved.

By Simon Phillips, Senior Consultant