You can spend hours with a client in their corporate HQ and still not know them as well as you do after a day on the tools. And so it was with Magenta’s newest client GRITIT, which specialises in winter maintenance from gritting to snow clearance. Jackie and I joined the GRITIT board, and 50 gritting operatives, on a regional training day at Donington Park Race Course last week to get a taste of what life is like for the hundreds of GRITIT employees who keep sites and people safe throughout the country all winter. Every year the company runs six training days around the country to train first-timers and refresh the memory of the more experienced gritters who have spent the summer months doing anything from farming and landscape gardening to acting.
You can tell a day is going to be a challenge when the first question you’re asked is: “Do you have a trailer licence?”. And if I thought for a moment that the lack of experience driving a vehicle bigger than a Volvo XC90 was going to give me a pass to sit on the sidelines and just watch, then I was very wrong.
The training involves driving a 4×4 safely (reasonably straightforward); towing a trailer and then reversing it through two cones into a ‘garage’ (fiendishly difficult); driving in a special ‘skid’ car which simulates the effects of driving on ice (excellent fun); and learning how to drive a truck and spread salt at the same time (challenging). While the skidding task was easily the most fun (except for those of us who felt rather green sitting in the back seat being spun round and round at high speed), it was the salt spreading I found most difficult.
If it wasn’t bad enough being the only girl in that group, I found myself being called forward first to demonstrate my salt spreading skills – in front of 10 experienced gritters and GRITIT’S MD and marketing director. All in a PR day’s work until I realised the vehicle was a manual rather than an automatic. The only clutch I’m used to holding is at a black tie event. Forget about the salt spreading, my main aim was not to be the girl who stalled the truck. By some miracle, I managed to complete the course, albeit with only one gear change. Fortunately for GRITIT’s customers I won’t be out spreading salt this winter – I was rather too generous with my application according to the experts and would have killed off the surrounding landscape, something that GRITIT is very careful not to do.
But spending a day not just with the board, but with the chaps actually doing the job, really brings PR to life and makes it so much easier to come up with ideas to promote what they do, and how they do it. And makes you realise that while skidding around Donington Park on a sunny October day is really quite fun, at 2am in February, when the temperature is below zero, it could be a completely different experience.