PROFILE: Toni McConville, London Borough of Brent - McConville takes the PR hotseat for Brent. From the Ealing blast to Wembley, Toni McConville is used to PR challenges

Fresh from tackling the aftermath of terrorism, Toni McConville is

far from nervous about her next challenge - taking up one of the most

prestigious jobs in local government PR.



McConville, who takes up her latest role as Brent director of

communications and consultant in the autumn, has only been in her

current post, Ealing council head of publications and deputy head of

communications, since January.



It was a newly created team at Ealing and she was thrilled by the

prospect of carrying through new initiatives. There was also no shortage

of big news to keep McConville busy. Last month the borough's Broadway

shopping centre was targeted by a Real IRA car bomb.



But as Brent council is regarded by many in the sector, including the

Local Government Association and McConville herself, as the home of one

of Britian's leading council communications teams, it was too good an

opportunity to miss. 'Brent is the plum job. I just thought "that's my

job, I want it",' says McConville.



Her experience in the aftermath of the Ealing bomb shows she is more

than suitable for the Brent role. The day after the blast, in the

absence of head of communications Clive Caseley who was away on leave,

she headed media relations.



As one of her key tasks was to deliver the council's e-government

agenda, the incident provided a chance to offer residents a rolling

online news service following the attack. The council itself also became

part of the story, when staff were evacuated from offices under orders

from water board officials who needed to redirect supplies.



McConville says: 'Everyone pulled together and our emergency plan worked

really well. I was particularly pleased at the amount of information we

were able to get directly to residents.'



Aside from her immediate council role, the bomb attack was more personal

for McConville, who has lived in Northern Ireland and whose father is

from the province. She first lived in Ulster as a toddler when her

family relocated from London, but by the time she was five they returned

to England, citing the violence as a factor. She returned to Portadown

for a year, just before she started a design course and her first career

as a graphic designer.



'The violence was all around. Soldiers would dive into doorways around

you as part of their manoeuvres and a nearby bank was blown up,' she

remembers.



'Because of living in Northern Ireland I do have a different

perspective. But I'm sure my attitude is a common one - these people are

just evil. What happened in Ealing could have been another Omagh,' she

adds.



Her move from second in charge at Ealing to the bigger role at Brent,

overseeing 22 PR staff, is a familiar trait through her career.



Initially a graphic designer, she became communications manager for

Brunel University students union. Enjoying the PR element, she moved to

the lower-ranked post of PR assistant at Hillingdon council. Within a

week, she was elevated to PR officer due to a staff departure.



A similar story applied to her next job at Harrow council. Within three

months she was promoted from PR manager to acting communications head

due to the departure of former PR chief Kevin Wilson to Barnet

council.



Another big story that she has handled was in her first week at Harrow.

She dealt with a barrage of media attention over the death of

13-year-old Aliyah Ismail, who died as a drug-addicted prostitute near

King's Cross despite having been placed in the care of Harrow social

services.



McConville is pleasant company, good-natured and her conversation is

littered with laughs and smiles. But there's a tough edge and her life

outside of work reflects this.



She has spent ten years as a fitness instructor, shouting aerobic advice

to often more than 80 people at once, and five years ago she discovered

the thrill of skiing. She has since been 17 times in the past five

years.



Hillingdon PR manager Roy Mills was in the same job when McConville was

at the council. He says: 'She is good-natured and has great courage of

her convictions. I suppose tough would be a word to describe her.'



Local Government Chronicle news editor Emma Parsons says of McConville's

work at Harrow: 'It was a bit of a mess before she got there. She turned

it around, we started to get responses quicker. She knows what she's

doing and is no shrinking violet.'



At Brent the council is entering a new phase in its PR campaign to get

the Wembley Stadium project back on track. The council has secured

£110m for the surrounding area, but this is conditional on the

redevelopment of the stadium going ahead.



A fear for those in Brent is that Wembley may never reopen as it is now

facing stiff competition from Birmingham, which is vying to become the

home of national football.



Like the bomb blast at Ealing, it seems the challenges are set to

continue for McConville at Brent.



HIGHLIGHTS

1990: Comms manager, Brunel Uni SU

1995: PRO, Hillingdon council

1999: PR manager, Harrow council

2001: Director of comms and consultation, Brent council



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