Profile: Debbie Parriss, Countrywide Porter Novelli - Laying down foundations/Debbie Parriss leaves the security of Countrywide to launch her own agency

There will be gritted teeth behind the smiles and champagne at Debbie Parriss’ leaving bash next week. Not only is Countrywide Porter Novelli (CPN) losing the managing director of its 60-strong Banbury office, but client services director Chris Woodcock is going with her.

There will be gritted teeth behind the smiles and champagne at

Debbie Parriss’ leaving bash next week. Not only is Countrywide Porter

Novelli (CPN) losing the managing director of its 60-strong Banbury

office, but client services director Chris Woodcock is going with

her.



The pair are stepping out on their own after ten loyal years with

Countrywide to launch their own agency, which does not yet have an

official name.



With Parriss’ corporate, environmental and internal PR expertise and

contacts from ICI to the DTI, and Woodcock’s crisis management know-how,

they will pack a powerful PR punch.



Countrywide has every right to feel upset. It is waving goodbye to two

home-grown success stories. Parriss, like Woodcock, joined Countrywide

as an account executive in 1989, a year after flying into the UK from

her native South Africa. She had worked as a freelance journalist in

Johannesburg on trade business magazines and the national newspaper

Business Day and spent a year as a trainee account executive at a small

Cheltenham-based PR agency called Harcourt Communications.



On joining Countrywide, Parriss quickly rose through the ranks, dabbling

in all areas, from the automotive to FMCG industries. She made her name

on some of Countrywide’s biggest international accounts such as the

trade body European Council for Vinyl Manufacturers. Parriss is quick to

credit her employer for making her rise to the top possible and says

ties with Countrywide will not be severed. Woodcock will spend two days

a week at CPN as a consultant when their new agency opens for business

next month.



’Countrywide has a unique culture. If you have the energy, drive and

initiative, there are an abundance of opportunities,’ she explains. ’I

never experienced any career limitations.’



So why leave now? ’Ten years with one consultancy is a long time,’ says

Parriss. ’This is an opportunity to take on a completely new challenge.’

Listening to those who worked with her in those early days, it seems

inevitable she would one day want to steer her own ship.



’Debbie was very determined,’ remembers Chris Genasi, a fellow

Countrywide account executive in the late 1980s and now head of

corporate development at Shandwick Welbeck. ’She had good attention to

detail and could spot gaps in arguments. She didn’t allow any vagueness

or lack of clarity, but at the same time she could be charming and

persuasive. She could win over clients and motivate employees - a

classic case of an iron fist in a velvet glove.’



Parriss, who is 34 but looks a good five years younger, remembers with a

smile how her direct approach stood out. ’It was quite a tough

environment in South Africa,’ she reminisces. She felt the country’s PR

industry was too ’immature and isolated’ to build a career. ’The English

culture is more subtle and complex, so I had to modify how I dealt with

people and become more patient. Now, although I might stand out with my

accent, I feel totally assimilated.’



Along with a small Edwardian house in Oxford, she also appears to have

picked up our English reserve. Her answers are slow to come and

carefully calculated. It is hard to penetrate the PR veneer, especially

when it comes to anything personal. Parriss is single, loves Tuscany,

eating out in good restaurants, drinking Chablis, listening to ’all

kinds of music except country and western and jazz’ and enjoys

practising interior design, which she once considered as a career.

That’s all she is giving away.



One gets the impression that everything has been planned, as Genasi

says, right down to the smallest detail. ’I’m not an impulsive

person.



I give a huge amount of thought to everything I do,’ admits Parriss.

’But I’m not the sort of person who takes the easy route either. I’m

fully aware of the huge change that is to come and I don’t fear it at

all.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1988

Trainee account executive, Harcourt Communications

1991

Consultant, Countrywide Porter Novelli

1994

Director, Countrywide Porter Novelli

1997

Managing director, Countrywide Porter Novelli, Banbury

1999

Launches own agency



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