Richard Kanareck: A loud and clear voice

Fleishman-Hillard's MD is determined to crank up the volume at the traditionally reticent agency, reports Sara Luker.

Richard Kanareck: 'The agency is seen more as a global player, with its UK office less celebrated - hopefully I'm going to change that'
Richard Kanareck: 'The agency is seen more as a global player, with its UK office less celebrated - hopefully I'm going to change that'

Richard Kanareck had a clear brief when he became Fleishman-Hillard's London MD last year - to get the agency punching at its own weight.

Meeting in the agency's newly renovated offices above Covent Garden station, Kanareck wastes no time in explaining the task that faced him. 'When I came in the place needed a lift - and not just a physical lick of new paint, which it has had, by the way,' he says.

'We're not a noisy agency and don't speak of ourselves much. This needs to change. I want to raise the volume as well as raise some eyebrows. We are viewed as a safe pair of hands and I don't want to ever shatter that - but I want us to be known for our creativity just as much.'

It has been a tricky baptism since Kanareck joined from eBay in January 2011, with strides forward being countered by the occasional shuffle backwards.

Notably last month, James Murray, who arrived with great fanfare from RBS, resigned from his newly created role as MD for corporate comms, public affairs and financial services after just six months.

His departure coincided with Procter & Gamble shifting its Pampers account to Hill+Knowlton Strategies and Huawei and Tata Consultancy Services going out to review.

But where there are negatives, there has been progress - evidenced by the agency picking up Expedia's European consumer account and the six-figure brief to handle food manufacturer Symington's PR and social media last month.

'We are experiencing forward momentum, in terms of more integrated ideas, a re-energised culture and a strong underlying growth,' says Kanareck. 'Of course, you make hard decisions and factor in a couple of bumps along the way, but they can help free you to progress even faster.'

Kanareck is softly spoken, taking time to carefully ponder each response. The 39-year-old is particularly keen to dispel any preconceptions and, he argues, misconceptions that have been built around the agency.

'We are both understated and misunderstood at the moment,' he explains. 'The agency is seen more as a global player, with its UK office being less celebrated. Hopefully I'm going to change that.'

A watchword that peppers the conversation is 'creativity'. But in an ideal world Kanareck would be exercising his creativity on the fret board of a guitar, playing to packed out arenas with his old band The Circle. 'I wasn't supposed to be in PR - I was meant to be a rock star,' he deadpans, before laughing: 'Our band should have been bigger than Oasis and Blur combined.'

When Kanareck was a 'struggling rock guitarist' Tanya Veingard, now head of sports sponsorship at Lloyds Banking Group, but then account director at Cohn & Wolfe, asked him if he wanted to have a go at PR for a couple of weeks. Pretty soon two weeks had turned into a year.

'It was a baptism of fire,' he remembers. 'I was let loose on the phones and told to sell in stories. I think my naivety rather than any PR knowledge got me through.'

When fellow Cohn & Wolfe colleague Sian Morgan, now MD at Cow PR, left for The Red Consultancy, Kanareck was recommended to the consumer shop. He describes his time there as an 'education' that gave the chance to work with 'inspirational people'.

Red CEO Mike Morgan says of Kanareck: 'He combines lateral thinking with a highly developed awareness of how comms really works today. Having followed his time at Red with a high profile eBay role he now has a great blend of agency and client skills for his new role.'

In 2005 eBay approached Kanareck about joining its comms operation, but he turned the online retailer down as the timing was not right. A year later eBay came calling again - and this time the firm got its man.

'I wanted to know the challenges and demands in-house people experienced,' he says. 'I needed to understand some of the decisions my clients had made.'

Kanareck describes the start of his in-house career as 'adapt or die'.

'It was an all-action PR job,' he recalls. 'I saw my previous clients in a whole new light once I had experienced in-house. Every use of budget had to reflect the results that will be gained for the business. I learned so much about truly integrated comms and how simple messages were needed.'

Alan Marks, eBay's senior vice- president, global comms, worked with Kanareck at the time. He says: 'He is an energetic, smart, thoughtful leader who makes great ideas work. And he always remembers to have fun.'

Kanareck cannot help but smile when he mentions eBay, suggesting it must have been quite a wrench to leave a job to which he had given so much. But Kanareck's heart lies in agency life - he describes in-house as a lonely place where comms people often lack support from the rest of the business.

He adds: 'In-house comms people want agency partners to help link ideas and messaging to business goals. A lot of agencies take briefs and forget this point - they work independently and don't support their in-house client enough.'

So is Kanareck back in agency life for good? 'I have never had a career plan. I am still learning and still challenging myself - if I wasn't I would lose interest.'

What does seem certain is that the challenge to change perceptions of Fleishman-Hillard will help keep his restless mind occupied for some time. His determination to deliver on his promises should ensure the agency is able to crank up the volume a notch or two.

CV
2011 Managing director, London, Fleishman-Hillard
2008 EU comms director, eBay
2006 Head of PR & comms, eBay
1996 Director, The Red Consultancy
1995 Freelance, Cohn & Wolfe

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

Making the jump client-side with eBay. It gave me a whole new perspective on comms and how it fits into the broader business mix. While there I worked with passionate comms people who were critical to the business.

Have you had a notable mentor?

I'm fortunate to have been able to draw upon many inspirational individuals over the years whose opinions I trust, respect and have learned from. Mike Morgan continues to be a source of wise counsel, obscure records and beer.

What advice would you give to people climbing the career ladder?

Be honest with yourself and those around you. Open yourself up to challenging situations. And above all make sure you enjoy what you do. The rest will follow.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Inquisitiveness, passion, creativity, work ethic and perspective.

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