In the late 1970s, Martin Ellis trained for three years to become a
nurse, but after qualifying he opted to take a job in healthcare
Twenty years later, Cohn and Wolfe is happy he made that decision
because in the last four years he has built the agency’s healthcare PR
business from virtually nothing to the point where it contributes around
a third of its pounds 4 million annual fee income.
Last week Cohn and Wolfe rewarded him with the announcement that he
would succeed Martin Thomas as UK managing director. Thomas leaves
officially in March to become one of the three people who will run
parent company Young and Rubicam’s revamped international media
consultancy, Media Edge.
By the time Ellis took his final nursing exams in Leicester, he had
already decided that nursing was not his bag. In 1980 he came to London
and joined pharmaceutical giant Marion Merrell Dowe (MMD), now Hoechst
Marion Roussel, as sales manager. It was there that he met newly
qualified pharmacist Les Walters, while promoting products to him.
Walters says Ellis’ relaxed, outgoing nature has changed little over the
years. ’He is a friendly, open, genuine person. He can relate to people
regardless of social background.
I think he is inspiring. He is in control of his own destiny and those
around him,’ Walters enthuses.
In 1991 Ellis was promoted to senior product manager. Two years later he
joined Burson-Marsteller as a director in the healthcare division
working with clients including Tambrands, makers of Tampax and baby food
producers Cow and Gate. The man who hired him was Nick May,
Burson-Marsteller’s then head of healthcare.
’He is full of energy, has the gift of the gab and is a good persuader
although his persistence can be a pain sometimes,’ says May, who is now
Edelman PR Worldwide’s global head of healthcare.
In the same year that Ellis joined B-M, he was promoted to the UK
In 1995 he moved within the Y&R group to Cohn and Wolfe, to build up a
healthcare business for the agency. His department started with just
five people. Four years later, after winning big pharmaceutical brands
such as Eli Lilly, SmithKline Beecham and Boehringer Ingelheim, the
number of healthcare staff in the UK office has reached 20.
Now 40, Ellis is married to Fiona and they have two children, Anthony,
14, and Christopher, 15. Christopher, who is currently taking his mock
GCSEs, is just beginning to understand what his father does, but that,
says Ellis, is no thanks to the business studies GCSE textbook. ’It is
frustrating to see that there are five chapters on advertising and three
paragraphs devoted to public relations,’ says Ellis.
Another bone of contention for him is that PR as a term carries too much
baggage. He believes it should be abandoned in favour of marketing
He says PR is too often seen as an add-on to other marketing services
and as primarily a press release function rather than a discipline
encompassing cause-related marketing, issues management, sponsorship,
direct marketing and event management. ’As an industry we have a job to
do to show that it covers all marketing disciplines and by making links
between them it can be more effective,’ he insists.
In the next two months, Ellis will move from overseeing a staff of 20
working in healthcare PR to running a major consumer agency, ranked 21
in PR Week’s Top 150 last year, with a staff of 76. , Ellis will take
responsibility for running major consumer clients, Visa, Reebok, the
airline Go and the Stella Artois brand.
Ellis is taking the change in his stride. ’If you look at the principles
and practices of marketing, you are effectively attempting to motivate
people to purchase a product or change their lifestyle - it is broadly
the same for healthcare as it is for consumer PR.’
Director of healthcare, Cohn and Wolfe
International director of healthcare, Cohn and Wolfe
Managing director, Cohn and Wolfe