Mark Gallagher: The backroom fixer

The founder of corporate PR and public affairs consultancy Pagefield has strident views, but shuns the spotlight. David Singleton reports.

Mark Gallagher: the backroom fixer
Mark Gallagher: the backroom fixer

Mark Gallagher has something he would like to get off his chest. 'I have found the debate about lobbying during the course of the past month utterly offensive,' he asserts.

The straight-talking Pagefield boss is not happy about the treatment that was dished out to lobbyists by the media in the wake of the Liam Fox scandal - and he is fighting back.

'I have worked in this industry proudly for 20 years,' he says. 'I am very aware there are some scrappy bits to the profession, as there are in any other profession in this country. But without the lobbying profession and the exemplary work that so many lobbyists do in improving legislation, this country would be poorer and it would be weaker.'

With lobbying getting a regular kicking in the media, this is precisely the type of fighting talk of which many in the public affairs industry would like to hear more. Alas, 41-year-old Gallagher insists he has no aspirations to be the public face of a lobbying fight-back. 'I'm not a front man,' he says. 'I enjoy being a backroom boy.'

Gallagher also has other strings to his bow. He may have started out as a lobbyist - when he was just 28, then ITN chief executive Stuart Purvis recruited him as public affairs director - but more recently he has held top corporate affairs posts.

In 2003, Gallagher was made corporate affairs chief at Camelot, when the lottery operator was still reeling from unprecedented media attention focusing on its employment of a string of 'fat cat' executives. His task was to oversee a PR make-over to enable the company to win the lottery licence for a third time. 'Probably the biggest corporate turnaround in the past decade,' is how Gallagher, not one for understatement, puts it.

Five years later, he took up the same post at ITV, where he did a mixture of corporate affairs and what he describes as 'corporate troubleshooting' for the broadcaster. Gallagher suggests that a natural next step would have been a general management role, but his heart was not in it.

Instead, after turning 40, he decided to strike out on his own last year and moved to set up Pagefield, a name he borrowed from an engineering company founded by his grandfather.

He had been secretly working on the new venture, specialising in corporate PR and public affairs, since leaving ITV at the end of 2009. Also on board are five partners including 'chief of staff' Sara Price, former group head of public affairs at Transport for London and board director at Hill & Knowlton. 'They all have, in the nicest sense, been around the block,' says Gallagher.

One thing that Gallagher cannot be accused of is sitting on the fence. Like most agency bosses, he is not short of reasons why his team is the best in town, but he is also refreshingly clear about what he is offering. Is it expensive? 'Yes,' he responds, without hesitation. 'If you want bog-standard PR, particularly on the consumer side, there are business models that can do that. But that's not us.'

Gallagher, a courteous Oxford PPE graduate and ardent Conservative, is similarly clear about his modus operandi. 'To succeed in this industry and this profession, you need to have a work ethic,' he states.

How many hours does he put in? 'If you want to succeed, you have to accept you're going to be working a minimum of 50 hours a week, more likely 60 or 70 hours a week. I've been working 60 or 70 hours a week for the past 20 years.'

While some lobbyists enjoy nothing more than a good lunch, others prefer to bury their heads in a white paper. Gallagher declares himself a fan of both approaches. 'To be successful, yes of course you have to have a good network and you have to be a good advocate, which means a lot of one-to-one meetings, private lunches and private dinners,' he says. 'But then you have to do the work. There needs to be an intellectual robustness to what we do if it's going to be successful...

It's no good knowing people and taking them out for a nice lunch and having nothing interesting or intelligent to say about public policy issues.'

David Rigg, the former Camelot comms director who runs the Project Associates agency, describes Gallagher as 'gifted, energetic, intelligent and with a great sense of humour'.

Rigg predicts this combination will ensure that Pagefield soon becomes a force to be reckoned with in the agency world. 'He understands the nuances of complex and successful communications, and is a natural campaigns guy,' says Rigg.

Of course, it is still early days for Pagefield, but Gallagher is confident that his 70-hour weeks are paying off. The agency has already outgrown its office in Golden Square, in central London, and will soon move to a new building in Soho.

Pagefield also has more than 20 clients - and Gallagher insists he is happy to lobby for every one of them. He says: 'I was reading on the front page of virtually every newspaper about how awful my profession is and then I looked at my client list: the Queen's Diamond Jubilee; Freesat - delivering consumer choice against Rupert Murdoch's BskyB; ITN - keeping the BBC and Sky News honest editorially. Every one of our first 20 clients are delivering some kind of consumer choice, some kind of public good.'

So would he turn a client down if he felt it was beyond the pale? Once again, Gallagher does not shy away from telling it straight. He insists: 'I already have.'

CV
2010 Founder and senior partner, Pagefield
2007 Director of group corporate affairs, ITV
2003 Director of corporate affairs, Camelot Group
1999 Director of public affairs, ITN
1996 Head of public affairs, ITV Network
1993 Senior officer, Industry and Parliament Trust

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

Becoming ITN's director of public affairs. I got to serve on the executive board of Europe's largest commercial news broadcaster and to look after PR and internal comms, neither of which I had done before, and to see from the inside out how newsrooms actually work.

Have you a notable mentor?

I have been incredibly lucky with all my corporate bosses, who to a man and woman have been generous with their time and advice. Dianne Thompson and Sir Peter Middleton at Camelot. Stewart Purvis at ITN. Michael Grade at ITV. What a line-up.

What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?

In this profession, there is no substitute for hard work.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

I look for early signs of sound judgement.

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