PROFILE: Chris Corfield, Banner PR - Entering the global fast lane at top gear. Chris Corfield aims to take Banner PR to the top of the hi-tech league

Chris Corfield describes his early career on local papers with a wince as involving ’pounding the streets of Harrow in a lime green Mini Metro’. The reason for the pain becomes clear when he speaks with barely contained excitement about the unmentionable speed (155mph) with which he can now drive to work down the M4 in his favourite Jaguar. Clearly, this is a man for whom being given a company car was a significant motivation to move his career forward.

Chris Corfield describes his early career on local papers with a

wince as involving ’pounding the streets of Harrow in a lime green Mini

Metro’. The reason for the pain becomes clear when he speaks with barely

contained excitement about the unmentionable speed (155mph) with which

he can now drive to work down the M4 in his favourite Jaguar. Clearly,

this is a man for whom being given a company car was a significant

motivation to move his career forward.



That motivation has taken him from his early working life as a

journalist (International Pest Control, no less), through a spell of

selling advertising space and then, after advice from his father (also a

PR man) into the world of public relations. Now he has entered the big

league with last week’s deal under which his agency Banner PR’s parent

company, the technology marketing services group Banner Corporation, is

to sell 60 per cent of its holdings to the international media group

Young and Rubicam.



The present deal is the second big one of his relatively brief career -

he is still under 40. Five years ago, after spells at various agencies,

he decided he wanted to be his own boss and rather than go it completely

alone, took the opportunity of setting up with the the backing of the

Banner Corporation, which offers services ranging from advertising to

event management.



As a man with a young family he was playing it safe. Banner put up half

the money to launch the agency and underwrote his and his partner Robert

Hollier’s mortgage repayments for three months.



The two partners are very different. Hollier says Corfield is the

extrovert who reacts emotionally and is good at seeing the big picture.

Hollier’s approach is more introverted and intellectual - he also hates

cars. Hollier testifies to Corfield’s competitive character. Golf, he

says, is another one of Corfield’s passions which would be good for

drumming up new business ’if Chris didn’t insist on beating them

(potential clients) - he always plays to win’.



The basis of Banner PR’s success, says Corfield, is its integrated

marketing approach. When the agency first set up he did not feel it

would be taken seriously if it was simply part of the Banner Corporation

so it maintained a separate identity to the rest of the group.

Nevertheless, as part of the corporation, it could still offer an

integrated service and as technology has continued to grow and the pace

of the industry quicken, the approach has become fashionable.



The agency also deliberately took a different tack from technology

rivals A Plus (now Brodeur A Plus), which Corfield and Hollier left to

go it alone. Rather than build a network of continental affiliate

agencies like A Plus, Banner prefers to import continental expertise to

work on pan-European accounts from London. The savings are matched by

improvements in communication and quality control, he says.



The success that this approach has brought (35 per cent growth last year

for example) has led to the current deal, which is valued at around

pounds 6 million for the whole Banner Corporation. It won’t allow

Corfield to realise his ambition of racing classic cars just yet as it

is a five-year buy-out, but it does pave the way for him to move towards

the targets he has set for himself before taking, if you will, a back

seat in the business.



The goal is to build a top five global technology communications

group.



To find the partner for this ambitious plan, Banner went to a US

merchant bank (’like an expensive dating agency for companies’) and

after a few abortive dates found Y&R. ’We needed a partner to help us go

global, it is the way the world is going. In order to get on those pitch

lists you need a global capability,’ he says.



The new arrangement will give Young and Rubicam a strong European

presence in the fast growing world of technology PR, and give Banner a

partner for its global ambitions. Banner PR will work closely with Y&R’s

PR agency Burson-Marsteller. The two agencies will share clients and

will not compete against each other, possibly pitching together in

Europe and certainly doing so globally.



’Both Burson-Marsteller and Young and Rubicam are outstanding globally

but neither have done much on hi-tech in Europe. The B-M hi-tech

business is run out of the US and is less strong in Europe,’ Corfield

says, explaining the logic.



One of the main attractions for Corfield is that he can continue to

enjoy a degree of independence - Banner will still work from its offices

at Chelsea Harbour. He is also unlikely to be offered anything in lime

green as a company car.



HIGHLIGHTS



1984: Account executive, Carl Byoir and Associates



1995: Group account director, A Plus



1999: Director, Banner PR.



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