Steve Marinker - A vision of togetherness

Havas PR's London MD is on a mission to break down barriers at the agency and create a 'sociotorial' future. He explains all to Hannah Crown.

No Boundaries: Steve Marinker
No Boundaries: Steve Marinker

Few people in PR know as much about baked beans as Steve Marinker.

This staple of the British diet has a personal significance for the head of Havas' newly rebranded UK PR division and is associated with some of the most memorable moments in his 20-year career.

'One of the things I am least proud of is erecting a giant piece of toast in Soho Square, covering it in baked beans and asking Linda Lusardi, then a page three girl, to lie on top wearing a bikini. I was young, I was a novice, and I really didn't know what I was doing,' he says blithely.

This was in the mid-90s when he worked for client Heinz and was followed by a redemptory jolly to France, in search of the England football team's nutritionist who had publicly banned the team from eating beans. He failed to find the nutritionist but did get his story around the world's press.

Then there was launching Branston's first baked beans range in 2006, a move he says made him feel 'slightly dirty, and like a bit of a traitor, but Branston was paying the mortgage, not Heinz, so fair's fair'.

He now has his feet firmly under the table at Havas, a firm he joined in September, just weeks before it shed its cumbersome Euro RSCG name to fall in line with the rest of the advertising and comms group.

Speaking to PRWeek on the day of his 47th birthday, Marinker says his new role 'couldn't be more exciting'. With experience in both corporate and the consumer sector in which he cut his teeth, he says he is now at a stage in his career where he wants to 'put down roots and build something', with the emphasis firmly on Havas' USP - a multidisciplinary, single P&L approach vaunted by many agencies, but by which Havas PR seeks to make its name.

With characteristic relish, Marinker declares himself to be 'rushing headlong into this world of boundary-less, content-driven information', adding: 'On more than one occasion I have gone in (to a pitch) with advertising agencies and said, we have all these different services to offer, but the reality is it never works. When push comes to shove people are trying to protect their creative capital.

'We are building a business that breaks down all of that. It's a genuinely collaborative exercise: creatives, PR and social media are all in the room and at the end you have a great plan. And that is the direction of travel for the industry.'

Marinker then introduces his keynote word: 'sociotorial', a term that now appears on all Havas creds. It means 'blending social and editorial together to generate content which generates conversations'. He acknowledges the term could be seen as PR gobbledygook, but says it stems from 'what really attracted me to this job, the ability to integrate a PR offering that is fit for the social age'.

Marinker spent his first 18 months in PR writing newsletters for BP as account executive for Dewe Rogerson, after first trying to get into the BBC. After stints in consumer PR including working for Heinz at Holmes & Marchant Counsel, his 'coming of age' global agency job came in 1999, at Porter Novelli.

Soon afterwards, however, there was a blip: after just one year he left, to make a name for himself in a post-dotcom start-up called Brands as Broadcasters, the premise of which was to create and promote broadband TV channels showing brands' own content. He says dryly: 'We thought brands would be falling over themselves to create their own TV channels. This was in 2001 when broadband was 516 KB.'

He files the experience under 'challenges faced and overcome'. A more successful example is when he returned and overcame internal opposition to win an account from a consortium of biotech companies, with the intention to stem a 'unidirectional torrent of bile' against GM foods and 'restore some balance to the debate. We got right into the heart of the media establishment. I was very proud of it.'

He was lured back to what had become Citigate Dewe Rogerson by a headhunter to help found a consumer division, for which he won clients such as Talk Talk. A two-year stint at Good Relations followed (the phone operator, after a competitive pitch, followed him there).

Mark Schmid, comms director at TalkTalk, says: 'He is incredibly bright. He still has incredible hunger for generating news and is relentless, like a dog with a bone. If he has a creative idea which doesn't quite work first time around he will rethink it and make it work.'

Despite 'two good years and winning a lot of business', he says it 'wasn't quite what I had in mind', and he was 'receptive to an offer of a leadership role'.

He is now on a mission to 'break down barriers between corporate and consumer sectors', which he says is 'one and the same thing' for brands.

'At Porter Novelli I tried to create a series of pieces around sectors but it didn't really work. It's quite good internally but it didn't serve the agency or clients as well as it might because people got shunted into one particular area.'

Given that Havas' former corporate chief, Andrew Robinson, left in October, does he see this as an opportunity to restructure, or will he replace him?

He says: 'I want to take my time.

We have great people and I am not about to rush in and bring in new people above them.'

So what is his vision exactly? 'I want to make this agency the most rewarding place to work in PR. If we do that then everything else will follow.'

CV

2012 MD, London, Havas PR UK

2010 Director, Good Relations

2004 Director, Citigate Dewe Rogerson

1999 Director, Porter Novelli (with brief sojourn in 2001 into dotcom territory)

1994 Director, then deputy MD, Holmes & Marchant Counsel

1993 Senior account manager, Wearne Associates

1991 Account manager, Team Advertising & Marketing

1989 Account executive, Dewe Rogerson

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

When I graduated I had no job lined up and no clear sense of what I wanted to do. A university buddy who'd graduated a year earlier gave me some freelance writing work and then another mate put me in contact with a friend of his at Dewe Rogerson.

I lolloped in hoping for some freelance writing work and two hours later I marched out with a full-time job. It changed my life. A classic example of making your own luck, I suppose.

Have you had a notable mentor?

I learned the craft of consultancy under Nigel Dickie at Holmes & Marchant. Nigel, now in-house at Heinz, is unflappable, dedicated to clients and the best man to have in your corner when a crisis hits.

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

Have opinions.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

The ability to express a viewpoint.

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