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Mike Jarrett – Journalistic all-rounder has helped to shape modern image of CSA

Mike Jarrett, former consultant and adviser to the Caribbean Shipping Association in the capacity of director of information and public relations, has had a fascinating and varied career that has involved him in virtually every aspect of journalism and public relations. We look back at some of the highlights.

Mike Jarrett’s education, both at school and at college, provided an excellent foundation for a career than would span 40 years. A graduate of Meadowbrook High School and Mico University College in Jamaica, he spent time at the International Institute for Journalism (IIJ) in Berlin and the Caribbean Institute of Media & Communications, UWI.

Mike JarrettWe all have to start somewhere in our business life and for the young Mike Jarrett it began in 1972 when he was invited by the deputy general manager at Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, Hector Bernard, to join the station’s news team. He gladly accepted and so in September 1972 left a classroom at one of Jamaica’s leading high schools, Cornwall College in Montego Bay, where he taught mathematics for a year as an intern teacher, to take up his first full-time job in journalism. News was not unfamiliar to Mike as, after leaving high school, he had worked as a proof reader at Jamaica’s leading newspaper, ‘The Gleaner’.

This first job in journalism in his native Jamaica had Mike writing features and reports for radio and TV about industrial production, commerce and corporate affairs as well as international issues affecting industry and commerce. In this regard, he covered assignments involving multilateral organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of Countries and the International Bauxite Association.

Mike’s three years of work at JBC attracted the attention of public relations firms in Jamaica. He was approached by Desmond Henry, then a principal of Jamaica’s largest PR firm, to join their team as PR officer at the Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation (JIDC), where, Mike worked under the direction of Carmen Tipling. He and Carmen enforced the reputation of the multi-faceted JIDC (since merged with others to form the Jamaica Promotions Corporation) as the leading force in Jamaica’s industrial development.

Implementation

“Carmen, as PR director, dealt with concepts, strategy, policy initiatives and speech writing,” recalls Mike. “My job was policy implementation – generating news releases, news features, producing brochures and promotional materials and planning and executing special events such as the JIDC’s display at Jamaica’s annual national agricultural show at Denbigh.”

In carrying out his various tasks, young Mike Jarrett, who was still in his mid twenties, had to meet and interact with department heads of the JIDC’s Productivity Center, the Food Technology Institute (since merged with the country’s Scientific Research Council), the Repair and Maintenance (Training) Division, the Tool and Die Institute, the JIDC Engineering Department and the Small Industries Development Division (SIDD).

“The SIDD was, at the time, headed by Rita Humphries, with able support from Kingsley Thomas and Richard Byles. The SIDD had established and maintained a number of industrial complexes around Jamaica. My job required my visiting these complexes, interacting with the heads of manufacturing entities that operated the factories there and, through discussion and observation, gaining intelligence about the effectiveness of JIDC policies and a clear understanding of the details of particular problems each factory might have been facing.”

Mike’s job as PR officer at the JIDC was quite an education, he says.

“I developed over time an intimate knowledge of the processes, industrial machinery and bottlenecks to production in the factories of all JIDC tenants, from St Thomas in the east to St Elizabeth in the west, dealing with everything from food processing to fabric manufacturing; from shoe manufacturing to ceramics production and everything in between,” he recalls. 

“It was a gruelling job, but there was never a dull moment. In fact, Carmen and I as a team did what may sound impossible to many in public relations. We had a robust and, as it turned out, record-breaking publicity program for the JIDC. There was one week – and I mean seven days, not a five-day work week – in which, every day, we had a news article or a news feature published in the newspapers about the JIDC. I suspect that record still stands in the annals of public relations practice in Jamaica.” 

Within three years, however, Mike was back in mainstream journalism as chief reporter industry and commerce, business editor and parliamentary reporter at the now defunct ‘Jamaica Daily News’. During his time at the ‘Daily News’ he initiated Jamaica’s first-ever weekly editorial feature dedicated to the maritime sector.

“Jamaican media had never treated shipping as an industry,” says Mike. “Rather, it was seen as a support service. My position was that its complexity, the specialised machinery and superstructure; the unique hardware and technology employed in receiving, storing and delivering cargo – not to mention a large workforce of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers – qualified shipping as a separate and identifiable industry.

“My editor, Canute James, agreed and he accepted my proposal for a four-page shipping industry section which was subsequently published weekly in the Wednesday paper. For the shipping section, I had a staff of one freelance writer. I had him visit and walk the Port of Kingston every Monday to observe and talk with port workers and to get a sense of their current concerns and what they were talking about. Based on his reporting and my interviews with heads of Kingston Wharves, Western Terminals, the Kingston Container Terminal and the Port Authority of Jamaica, the ‘Daily News’ published a rather successful weekly shipping feature.

“By contrast, ‘The Gleaner’s’ only focus on the shipping industry at the time was a page – half a page as I recall – on which it placed advertisements from shipping companies. There was no regular reporting or publication of features specific to the industry.”

CSA Magazine

Based on his coverage and writings about the shipping sector, Mike was approached by the then PR director of the CSA, Anthony Gambrill, who offered him a job to edit the CSA’s magazine, ‘Caribbean Shipping’ journal. So, in 1981, he took charge of the CSA magazine. The job title was publications editor of creative communications incorporated, so Mike, by now a seasoned journalist, who had won the Director’s Prize for highest score on final examinations at the IIJ in Germany, was now also editor of an eclectic magazine portfolio that included the Air Jamaica in-flight magazine ‘Skywritings’, the short-lived ‘Caribbean Farming’ and the ‘Caribbean Ports Handbook’. Mike was tasked with editing, often rewriting, the stories submitted; supervising as ‘stone editor’ layout and paste-up in the graphic arts department and was generally responsible for ensuring that publications deadlines were met. In the pressurised world of publishing, it doesn’t get much tougher.

When it comes to his long and distinguished links with the CSA, the watershed year for Mike was 1982. In that year he proposed and carried out a PR strategy for the CSA’s AGM in New Orleans which the Association was to follow with success for the next three decades and more. That strategy involved pre-publicity and post-publicity but its mainstay was a format for an official opening ceremony for CSA conferences, developed at the request of then CSA President Ludlow Stewart.

A year later, Ludlow Stewart called Mike to the CSA’s General Council. This was in Puerto Rico in October 1983.

“My boss and CSA PR director, Tony Gambrill, was a member of the General Council and was attending that meeting and he did not invite me to this closed meeting so I was embarrassed to accept the president’s request for my presence,” says Mike. “I told Luddy that I had no status or reason for being in the General Council meeting, but he insisted that I’d be there on his invitation. I tried to protest, but Luddy would not yield.

“My problem is that I am not afraid or shy to express my point of view in any forum. I guess it’s the journalist in me. So I was no ‘dummy’ at my first General Council meeting. I guess my interventions there were respected as I was subsequently expected to regularly attend General Council meetings.”

In addition to his efforts on behalf of the CSA, Mike started a process that led to the development of his own business. In 1985 he resigned from CCI and, confident in his knowledge and experience, launched Mike Jarrett Communications (MJC), a private PR consultancy based in Kingston.

“Ironically, my second client was CCI. Tony Gambrill called me during the first week and offered me a three-year contract to edit the CSA’s magazine.”

MJC was incorporated, within two years, as Mike Jarrett Communications Ltd, a company that handled not only PR consultancy but advertising and publications. It was a full-service media house, a member of the Public Relations Society of Jamaica (PRSJ) and a member of the Advertising Agencies Association of Jamaica, with a complement of 19 staff providing a complete range of services in PR, advertising, publications and graphic design. The company created and produced corporate brochures, newsletters, annual reports, TV and radio commercials, press advertisements and video documentaries and excelled in special events planning (including, for example, the annual Carib Cement Jamaica Marathon; the launch of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Caribbean; and the historic West Indies Cricket Board Dinner in Kingston to Honour Past and Present West Indies Test Players.) 

During the company’s 15 years of existence it represented or provided services for some of the top names and brands in Jamaica’s manufacturing, financial and maritime sectors and a number of overseas entities as well, including:

  • Carib Cement
  • Capital & Credit Merchant Bank
  • Southern Pine
  • Maritime & Transport Services Ltd
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica
  • Institute of Chartered Accountant of the Caribbean
  • Maritime General Insurance Brokers Ltd
  • Maersk Line
  • Government of Jamaica (Ministry of Health – National HIV/STD programme)
  • West Indies Cricket Board
  • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Kingston Wharves Ltd
  • Western Terminals Ltd
  • Port Authority of Jamaica
  • Caribbean Shipping Association
  • Shipping Association of Jamaica
  • The Life Underwriters Association of Jamaica
  • Medic Alert Jamaica.

Mike’s time at the helm of MJC coincided with his role from 1983 as consultant and adviser to the General Council of the CSA – a position he held for 30 years until October 2013. During those 30 years Mike was closely involved in a series of key initiatives and events. He:

  • Proposed and launched the CSA Newsletter
  • Proposed and launched the CSA Silver Club
  • Proposed and launched the ‘Shipping Insight’ Annual Business Exposition
  • Proposed and named the Caribbean Shipping Executives’ Conference (CSEC) to replace the May Semi-Annual General Meeting (which was suffering a decline in attendance and had become a perennial financial loss)
  • Proposed the ‘CSA Handbook of Caribbean Ports’
  • Proposed the adoption of conference logos for each CSEC (to be used alongside the CSA’s logo)
  • Proposed and designed a standard backdrop for CSA conferences
  • Proposed and launched the CSA Website, the first full corporate website in regional shipping
  • Proposed and launched the Annual Silver Club Roast
  • Proposed and launched ‘Caribbean Maritime’ and designed the magazine’s trademark logo
  • Proposed and established CSA Facebook.

Autobiography

Since giving up his role with the CSA, Mike has been working on his autobiography, ‘All in the Same Boat’, to be published this summer. And he is well advanced in research for another book dealing with socio-political realities in the evolution of Jamaican music which he expects to be published early in 2015.

Discussing ‘All In The Same Boat’, Mike says the book “…places the challenges and successes of the CSA in historical context. It documents for posterity the economic and political issues and the historical milestones in the process of developing a viable regional maritime network. It records the contribution and thoughts of some of those who laid the Association’s foundations and celebrates their selfless contribution to the development of the CSA and the Caribbean maritime network. “In doing this, I have included a varied collection of editorial and anecdotal memories dating from the early 1980s to the end of the 20th century. ‘All In The Same Boat’ is a first-hand account of the early period of my career as editor of CSA publications, speechwriter to a number of presidents, public relations consultant to the Association, serving 11 of the first 15 CSA presidents.” Mike says the book includes little-known facts about the CSA; however, he is careful to point out, it is not an inward look at the Association. “It is an autobiography, but it presents the CSA to the world by documenting the history of the times in which the Association evolved.”

Mike and his wife Donna have been invited by the CSA’s General Council to attend the October 2014 AGM in the Dominican Republic where, as CSA President Grantley Stephenson has stated, the Association will properly thank Mike Jarrett for his 30 years of service to the CSA.