PROFILE: Nancy Prendergast, Gnash - Prendergast key to Gnash's MORR drive - Gnash's new reputation management service has the joint MD's support

Nancy Prendergast hails from Boston, Massachusetts, but has learned

her way around the British sense of humour. 'That's irony,' she says at

one stage. 'I've been here long enough to spot it. You can test me as we

go along.'



There's no need. The joint MD of tech firm Gnash Communications is witty

and fun. She's been in London six years, the last two at Gnash. Formed

in 1997 by Narda Shirley, the PRWeek 'One To Watch' rode the tech wave

throughout last year and has survived in pretty good shape.



Going into next year, its senior staff reckon they have hit on a new gap

in the market. MORR, which stands for Managing Online Risk and

Reputation, is a service that seeks to identify web messages that are

potentially damaging to brands and suggest strategies to nullify them -

even if that means legal action rather than PR.



Prendergast, who is in charge of B2B and viral campaigns at Gnash, says.

'Consumers are pissed off and getting a lot more savvy about their own

power. MORR is designed to look at serious brand infringement.'



Real danger to brands from international consciousness stirring would

have been unthinkable ten years ago. But that was before the

orchestration of anti-globalisation protests in Seattle, before Naomi

Klein's No Logo became a bestseller and, crucially, before the internet.

By backing MORR, Gnash acknowledges it is not only 'geeks and freaks'

who are logging on to potentially damaging websites, chatrooms or

e-mails.



Known for working with smaller, emerging companies in technology -

Letsbuyit, First Tuesday and iVillageUK are clients - Gnash hopes its

offering will attract another set of players to its books. 'CEOs of

start-ups are going back into big firms now. If they have had a good

experience with Gnash, the network grows,' Prendergast explains.



With MORR, Gnash will not simply monitor reports from search engine firm

Envisional and hand the offending ones to libel lawyers Schilling &

Lom.



As Prendergast says: 'If that is all that happens, there's no role for

Gnash.' The agency will make assessments of what needs doing, based on

the search engine findings, and decide whether to recommend action.



It might all have been so different for Prendergast. At school she had

wanted to be a physiotherapist but found 'I was crap at science,

frankly'.



An English and Spanish degree, with a year in Madrid, followed and then

came an MA in Mass Communication. She thought she might try her hand at

ads but a professor got her in touch with the Lotus comms team and she

discovered PR.



More importantly, she found she enjoyed writing for internal and

customer publications. Ads no longer seemed such a great option. PR

allowed you to get involved with a business, indeed Prendergast talks of

PR having a more 'soulful' feel than advertising. Worried about sounding

too whimsical, she suggests we change that to 'beefier'. Either way, she

means it is about helping people tell a story.



Prendergast began her UK PR career at Ogilvy as an account director

working on IBM's pan-European business. She quickly went freelance,

working from home as part of a 'virtual' team for US firm Lotus.



She enjoyed freelancing so much she told friends: 'Someone kick me if I

go back to full-time work.' Her return to regular work started with

three or four days a week as amarcoms freelance for FT.com. That

company's former head of marketing Yehuda Shapiro says: 'She combines

old world cynicism with new world enthusiasm. She has a readiness to

take on new ideas and she likes people to get their dues for what they

do.'



'Gnash was so attractive to me.' Prendergast says of her move: 'You had

to be blind to miss the potential. I quickly went from three days a week

to seven.'



Two factors, the dotbomb and the fact Gnash is no longer a fledgling

company, mean the mania has eased. '(The market) is more sane now. We'd

like to see the economy strengthen but are busy without that

madness.'



Prendergast heads a young team. 'I am the grey hair,' she says with a

smile. The weight on her and CEO Narda Shirley's shoulders has, however,

eased as the company has matured, she insists. Next year's growth is

unlikely to match 2001's Prendergast admits, but 'there's no reason why

Gnash can't lead. We don't know how big MORR will be.



'Clients are interested in guerilla activity and viral campaigns but

also in seeing how both can be integrated into traditional media

relations,' she says. Gnash is seeking to consolidate gains in a

relatively depressed sector while branching into new areas.



She likens at least part of her career path to 'a stick floating in a

stream', saying that although endeavour plays its part, being in the

right place at the right time helps too. Physiotherapy's loss was

plainly Gnash's gain.



HIGHLIGHTS



1995: Account director, Ogilvy PR

1996: Freelance consultant, Lotus Development Corporation

1997: Marketing comms manager, FT.com

2001: Joint MD, Gnash



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