Alison Crombie: A picture of positivity

Getty Images' V-P of global PR has not let a shaky start in PR prevent her from carving out a glittering career at the photo agency. Sara Luker reports.

Alison Crombie: 'I see my role at Getty as telling the story behind the content'
Alison Crombie: 'I see my role at Getty as telling the story behind the content'

There is less than a year to go until the start of London 2012, and as the person heading up Getty Images' involvement with the sporting juggernaut, Alison Crombie, global V-P of PR, is already hard at work.

Getty Images is the official photographic agency of the International Olympic Committee, in charge of capturing images that millions will associate with London 2012 during next summer and beyond.

For Crombie, promoting that association and stamping Getty's authority on proceedings is key. 'I see my role at Getty as telling the story behind the content we produce and promoting the fact that our photographers will have access all areas at the Olympics,' she says.

She is also keen to change perceptions of the company, which is known for providing images to the media and other creative industries. 'So many of our clients just think we are a stock image service when we're now providing multimedia footage. I need to create greater awareness and generate engagement with our customers,' she says.

Although Crombie, 40, has spent nine stable years at Getty, she had a very turbulent start to the world of PR, with three of her employers ceasing to exist in a three-year period.

Her first PR job was at boo.com, the website seen as revolutionary in 1999 for selling branded fashion over the internet. It lasted a year before it was liquidated.

Time must have been a great healer, as the positive and bubbly Crombie looks back on the experience fondly. 'That time was so exciting,' she says. 'It pushed boundaries when people were still scared of buying over the internet and when they only had dial-up.'

The demise of the company hit headlines but Crombie says 'the weirdest thing was people from other dotcom companies were outside thrusting business cards into our hands as we left the offices'.

One of those business cards was from ShopSmart.com and Crombie became its European PR manager, only to experience liquidation for the second time a year later. Undeterred, she bagged the PR manager role for TV channel Home Shopping Europe UK. But again, after only a year, the channel stopped broadcasting. It was the final straw.

She decided to set up her own PR agency so 'no-one could liquidate me again', and had lined up potential clients, when she was headhunted by Getty Images.

After a day meeting the key players at the company she started as EMEA PR director. Jack Sansolo, who retired as CMO at Getty in 2007, says of her: 'Don't be fooled by her dynamic personality and sense of humour; behind that resides a creative and strategic mind that knows how to get results. I was always struck by her imaginative solutions. On top of everything she's great fun to work with.'

But her role at Getty Images has not all been plain sailing. This April, Getty photographer Chris Hondros died from wounds suffered in a mortar attack in Misrata, Libya. The attack also claimed the life of photojournalist Tim Hetherington and wounded two other photographers.

'It was so hard to deal with on both a professional and a personal level, as I knew Chris,' she says. 'The first priority was to get the facts and tell his family exactly what was going on. Then I had to inform the media. I just made sure that I didn't communicate anything until we knew the whole truth and that was hard when speculation was all over Twitter.

'We're not an organisation that really has to deal with crisis comms,' she adds, 'but our photographers do continue to risk their lives in war-torn countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.'

Despite these challenges Crombie is committed to Getty, stating she could not be tempted by agency life. 'I like to focus on one brand that I'm passionate about and really get under its skin. It's like in my personal life - I only like to date one person at a time,' she says with a mischievous look.

Ted Royer, deputy creative director at Droga5 advertising agency in New York, enjoys Crombie's sense of fun: 'In PR, there's no shortage of grumpy, depressed, mean-spirited, political, calculating people. Alison is none of these things. Her professionalism, enthusiasm and bright smile make her a joy to work with.'

One thing that has been a constant in her professional career is the internet, and it has now become a constant in her personal life too. She met her fiance online in December and they plan to marry in Spain next year. Finally, the dotcom world has worked out for her.

CV
2011 Vice-president, global public relations, Getty Images
2010 Senior director, global public relations, Getty Images
2007 Senior director,public relations EMEA & Asia Pacific, Getty Images
2002 Director, public relations EMEA, Getty Images
2001 PR manager, Home Shopping Europe UK
2000 PR manager Europe, ShopSmart.com
1999 PR officer, boo.com
1997 Marketing manager, Centre for Global Energy Studies

ALISON CROMBIE'S TURNING POINTS

What was your biggest career break?

Joining the 1990s dotcom revolution with boo.com, one of the most forward-thinking brands of the time, propelled my PR career. It pushed boundaries, always challenged what was possible and its approach to thinking outside the box stayed with me. And having a BA in French and Spanish gave me the opportunity to take on a pan-European role.

Have you had a notable mentor?

Co-founder & CMO of boo.com, Kajsa Leander, for her vision and encouragement to think differently.

What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?

PR isn't a nine-to-five job - you have to commit 100 per cent. Keep your passion for the brand you are promoting alive, find new ways to make it engaging and consume media. Stay on top of the news agenda both inside and outside of your clients' world.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

The personality needs to match the ability and CV - strong interpersonal skills are just as valuable an asset.

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