ANALYSIS: Brunswick enters media spotlight - Even before the recent security lapse, Brunswick was an agency undergoing significant cultural changes, reports Holly Williams

The UK's most successful financial PR consultancy by a substantial

margin, Brunswick has been shrouded in mystery since its inception 14

years ago.



Founder Alan Parker and managing partner James Bradley have evolved the

agency along strict in-house policies on marketing with an ethos to

'never get between a client and the footlights'.



This lack of self-promotion means that marketing has been kept to a

minimum - the firm has no company brochure, no developed website and

staff do not give attributable quotes. But the air of mystery that has

for so long lingered around Brunswick is slowly beginning to

disperse.



In the past few weeks, the agency has had its fair share of the media

spotlight. This was sparked off initially by the news that former Bill

Clinton aide James Rubin was joining the consultancy (PRWeek, 11

May).



Then followed the embarrassing lapse concerning a confidential dossier

leaked to The Guardian, which forced the firm again out of the shadows,

albeit briefly. According to industry peers, the firm has followed the

crisis communications rules carefully, making itself uncustomarily

available for press comment, contacting clients and pledging to overhaul

security.



The media, always happy to avenge the spin doctors who have spun them

for years, latched on to the stray dossier story with glee, despite

Brunswick's protestations that it was simply a press cuttings

distribution list.



Whether the mistake will affect Brunswick's pole position in the sector

is a moot point, and the answer will not be known until the results of

the Financial Services Authority inquiry.



Some argue the security lapse could give competitors the advantage they

need to take first place. One City source said: 'Investment bankers are

vital for the financial PR sector and they're key referrers for new

business.



'They take security very seriously and are paranoid about it. If they

felt there was a lapse, they may have a problem working with

Brunswick.'



A former employee adds: 'If you are in a tough pitch and there's two

firms in the running with little between them, then it may influence the

decision in the other firm's favour, but it won't stop Brunswick being

the top firm.'



Whatever the outcome of the inquiry, Brunswick will almost certainly

find itself answering questions on security in future pitches. The

chances are the firm will take the embarrassment in its stride, as it

has before, notably during the Millennium Dome fiasco early last

year.



The agency, then hired by Dome chairman Bob Ayling, was heavily

criticised in the nationals for its allegedly misleading spin

surrounding Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, when he replaced Jennie Page as chief

executive of the beleaguered attraction.



But Brunswick's position as the leading financial agency is unrivalled -

it's just topped rankings for M&A PR advisory work in April (PRWeek, 18

May).



Brunswick advises nearly 30 of the FTSE 100, closer to 40 if you include

its other interests: media training venture Trinity, run by Parker's

sister Lucy; literature and advertising arm Merchant and research

consultancy SRU, acquired last September. Its client roster reads like a

City PRO's fantasy client list, boasting names such as Cazenove, EMI and

British Airways.



Former employees suggest the secret of its success lies in the quality

of its 35 partners and 280 staff. Parker's former right-hand man Lucas

van Praag, now Goldman Sachs European head of communications, says:

'Alan pulled together a group of people who had immense credibility. He

is not afraid to hire people who may well be brighter than him, and

that's an enormous part of their success.'



Working conditions at the agency's Holborn headquarters are said to be

buzzing - yet tough. The offices resemble a bustling open-plan newsroom,

with few shut-off rooms - not even a separate office for Parker. While

some former employees say the conditions are 'fun and mixed' others

maintain otherwise.



One says: 'It's a culture that's propagated and pushed and quite

claustrophobic, with little out-of-hours socialising.'



Despite the criticisms, Brunswick is still attracting top staff -

Rubin's appointment is a major coup and follows just months after that

of former Independent City editor, Andrew Garfield. Its latest hire, the

firm's first marketing partner Rachael Melsom, illustrates a desire to

raise the agency's profile.



As Parker sets his sights on global expansion, the need to market and

push the brand overseas is becoming increasingly essential.



'We have never marketed conventionally in the past because we always

felt referrals from existing clients and investment banks was a better

way to get new business,' says a Brunswick spokesman.



With expansion plans for continental Europe, the US and possibly

South-East Asia, Brunswick needs 'someone dedicated to marketing, to

co-ordinate our efforts in that area'.



Speculation continues about whether the firm, worth some pounds 100m

according to industry sources, will sell or float. What is certain is

that Parker's empire will continue to grow and we may begin to see a far

more media-friendly agency in the process.



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