PROFILE: Olly Grender, LLM Communications - Tamed by the media relations machine?/Political animal Olly Grender prepares to change focus at rebranded LLM

Olly Grender didn’t go to university. Instead, she says that Westminster was her training ground. There she became a master of the art of ’covert’ persuasion, of fixing and lobbying behind the scenes. But what about the arts of overt persuasion, the art of stating your case very publicly?

Olly Grender didn’t go to university. Instead, she says that

Westminster was her training ground. There she became a master of the

art of ’covert’ persuasion, of fixing and lobbying behind the scenes.

But what about the arts of overt persuasion, the art of stating your

case very publicly?



Does Grender, who is nothing if not a political animal, have the very

different skills required for that game?



Her impressive track record suggests she does. Grender became a speech

writer for Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown in the mid-1980s, just

a couple of years after starting work for the party as a researcher.



She swiftly rose to become communications director where she acquired a

reputation as an effective and, at times, aggressive operator. She left

after nine years to manage a team of 40 at housing charity Shelter,

where she is widely credited with turning round its image.



’She was an excellent boss, a good manager, accessible and a shrewd team

builder,’ says her former deputy Rachel O’Brien. But her biggest

contribution was strategic. ’She set Shelter on a different, less

confrontational path which allowed us to be far more effective with the

new Government after the 1997 election.’



At Shelter, Grender first learnt the importance of integrating public

affairs with media relations. ’We had the two functions in the

communications office and there were continuous tensions between the two

disciplines.



Sometimes one undermined the other. For instance if Shelter was in

dialogue with a Government department it would be very unhelpful to

appear in the press criticising the Government at the same time,’ she

says.



However, she believes that, when used in tandem, media relations and

public affairs can be a very powerful tool. ’Sometimes a Government may

view issues through the prism of the media. Often the Government may

well respond to issues that are in the public arena. So sometimes you

have to win your case in the media as well as behind the scenes,’ she

says.



The last year has been a period of great change for Grender. She has

moved house, got married and changed jobs. But at 37, her open features

and friendly personal style still hint at the untainted idealism of

youth. ’She should do well dealing with journalists. She is likable, she

is scrupulous, a tough manager and she has integrity ,’ says Peter

Bingle, managing director of public affairs consultancy GPC, who has

known her since her days working for the Liberal Democrats.



Grender joined public affairs specialist Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn last

year. The recent announcement that the consultancy is moving out of

straight lobbying and has rebranded itself LLM Communications, means

that dyed-in-the-wool political spin doctor Grender will now head its

new media relations division.



The company was founded by three New Labour stalwarts on the basis that

it would provide pure political consultancy. So why the U-turn? ’It’s

not a change of direction, just a natural progression in response to

client demand,’ says Grender. ’Politics and the media are inextricably

linked.



Politics must connect with public affairs. The more we looked at it, the

more we recognised the need for a distinct media unit,’ she

explains.



But just once or twice during our meeting there is evidence that perhaps

she has yet to unlearn some of the lessons acquired in those years spent

around the Palace of Westminster.



Gender says she joined LLM because of the range of clients offered by

agency life. ’I had always planned to leave Shelter after four years and

Neal Lawson (managing director of LLM) handled the Shelter business.

It’s a comfortable compromise between dealing with a different issue

every five minutes, as I did for the Lib Dems, and dealing with just one

in-depth, as I did for Shelter.’



So who are her clients? ’I can’t tell you,’ comes the firm answer. ’I

believe that if clients want us to promote them, that they will come to

me to promote them in the right kind of magazines and papers for that

client.’



Three times I asked, three times she denied me, although in the end she

did show me a client list. But LLM’s client list is a matter of public

record, so it is difficult to understand why all of a sudden Grender is

adopting the stance of a minister receiving a grilling on Newsnight.



’She is a deeply political being. She lives and breathes politics. But

she is still new to the marketing world. Her challenge is to understand

the difference between covert and overt communications,’ suggests

Bingle.



Grender is smart enough to take the point.



HIGHLIGHTS

1989

Research and policy officer for Paddy Ashdown

1992

Communications director, Lib Dems

1995

Communications director, Shelter

2000

Senior consultant, LLM Communications



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