Sitting at an enormous table, Charles St George is almost dwarfed
by the grandeur of the 18th-century ballroom-turned-boardroom attached
to his Mayfair offices. But behind this unassuming, boyish-looking
44-year-old is a man who has hit the lobbying jackpot that eludes most
other public affairs agency chiefs.
Over the past five years, Political Planning Services, the specialist
planning lobbying outfit St George founded with his then-colleague of
five years Stephen Byfield in 1990, has registered a giddy 400 per cent
fee income growth.
’Ten years ago, Stephen and I were sitting in one room doing what we
enjoyed and suddenly now we have a whole different set of problems that
are not about advising Tesco on how to get planning permission, but
about management issues,’ St George says humbly of his ascent. His
business plan aims to propel PPS from number 55 into the top 20 PR
agencies by 2003.
A concrete sign of these ambitions came last week, with the unveiling of
a new mainstream lobbying arm, PPS Public Affairs, which aims to compete
with big lobbying brands like APCO and GJW. It is sink-or-swim time for
St George, who is responsible for the new venture and who admits to not
being a natural risk-taker - ’I’m always looking to the next
To get PPS Public Affairs off the ground, he is relying on the same
mixture of opportunity-spotting and luck which led him into the planning
He recalls, as a Liberal councillor in Guildford in the mid-1980s: ’All
the developments took place in my ward and I used to oppose them because
nobody ever bothered to approach me and say, ’I want to talk to you
about this six-storey office block, here’s the case for it’.’
By the late-1980s, when he was MD of Profile Political, St George was in
a position to fill that lobbying void, taking advantage of the property
boom which was, conveniently enough, largely powered by clients of
Profile’s parent company - one-time financial PR giant Broad Street.
His luck could have turned when he left Profile to set up PPS with
Byfield - the two are professionally glued together, to the extent that
he describes this ’hugely successful’ business partnership as a second
marriage. PPS launched six months before the bottom dropped out of the
But, as fortune would have it, the nascent agency landed a contract with
Tesco. And St George has never looked back.
The gap he hopes to fill with PPS Public Affairs is both more nebulous
and more heavily populated than the planning niche. Explaining his
vision of the new arm, St George trots out lobbying truisms which no
doubt pepper the marketing literature of his rivals: ’it’s not who you
know but what you know’ - something he says he learned from four years
with cash-for-questions man Ian Greer - plus ’grassroots campaigning’
and ’regional networking’.
Translating post-Greer and Draper theory into reality is more dependent
on the quality of consultancy than any grand concepts. If his lobbying
of APPC members in favour of current chair Michael Burrell during the
’leadership crisis’, which pitted Burrell against incumbent Andrew
Gifford, last June is anything to go by, St George scores highly in that
Whether the staff he has recruited to man PPS Public Affairs will cut
the mustard is another matter - those who have worked with St George say
character judgment is not his forte.
But they also testify that he is huge fun to work with. Behind the
measured and unpompous facade - perhaps in part derived from what he
calls a ’bizarre childhood’ - lies a lively sense of humour and bags of
This energy also seems to overflow into his personal life. St George has
managed to clock up four children from two marriages - his youngest sons
still labour under the Father Christmas-like illusion that their father
was born in Toys’R’Us, built on the site of a former hospital in
In between spending time with his family, he plays golf and tennis and
even ran the London marathon ’for my 40th birthday treat. I wanted to do
it before I hit 40.’
Let’s see if he cracks the top ten by his 50th.
Account executive, Ian Greer Associates
Managing director, Profile Political
Co-founder, Political Planning Services