PROFILE: Gavin Houlgate, KPMG - Ex-journalist Houlgate relishes KPMG remit. Gavin Houlgate's corporate comms responsibilities to include EMEA region

Gavin Houlgate is - according to his former colleagues - probably

the best man for the job of UK corporate PR chief at accountancy giant

KPMG. Those who have worked with him during his career in journalism and

PR say he evenly combines the qualities of a journalist with those of an

accountant.



As former boss, Ken Rees - ex-HTV West controller of news and current

affairs - says: 'He was never your flippant hack, and in some ways he's

more like an accountant than a reporter.'



This is not to imply Houlgate is your average bean-counter, says Rees -

more that he is as focused and meticulous a media professional as you

can get: 'Of all the people I've worked with in journalism, he's one of

the most serious-natured and focused,' says Rees, now MD of

Bristol-based PR firm Winningtons.



And it's obvious from Houlgate's achievements in just six months at KPMG

that his former colleagues have the measure of him. He has carried out a

review of UK communications - with both the appointment of an external

corporate PR firm and additional in-house PROs expected soon - and is

expanding his remit to include the EMEA region.



Although he laments that he is 'not as hands-on he'd like to be' at

KPMG, Houlgate relishes the challenge of extending PR programmes outside

the UK. Working with marcoms chief Nigel Mengham, who was recently

promoted to head all communications across EMEA, Houlgate aims to create

a European 'anchor practice'.



'Rather than all the marketing and communications people in each country

doing their own thing, we need to get common ground,' he says.



Part of the EMEA communications plans also include developing best

practice across the region: 'We are bringing in new standards of

excellence right across the firm to position KPMG where it should be -

not to say that we've done badly before, but we haven't shown off all

that's happening in the company.'



Houlgate says throughout his previous 25-year career in journalism, he

always found himself leaning towards the City and corporate patch. This

interest eventually led him to join the then Shandwick International as

associate director in the broadcast division, working with corporate

clients such as PricewaterhouseCoopers.



More than two decades earlier, Houlgate was a news reporter at regional

newspaper The Bridport News after leaving school. He went on to work for

the Bournemouth Echo before breaking into TV news, landing a sub-editing

job at HTV West, and later being promoted to news editor.



From there, his broadcast journalism career took off and saw Houlgate

working at Thames News, the BBC - on its flagship news bulletins, the

highlight of his journalistic career - and at Sky News as an executive

producer in business news.



Houlgate confesses that his transition to PR was harder than he'd

imagined.



On his first few months at Shandwick, he says: 'Being in a news

environment was a completely different way of working - at Sky we had

hourly bulletins to work to, while in PR it's about liaising with

clients and getting new business. In the corporate world you have to be

a little more refined,' he adds.



Houlgate still possesses some of the qualities of a news hack and admits

to disliking corporate-speak - although he catches himself slipping into

the lingo at times. 'I do sometimes think I'm becoming one of them,' he

jokes.



Former WSW colleagues confirm his no-nonsense approach to PR, citing the

invention of a company Cynics Cup in his honour: 'He's cynical about

people trying to sell stories and doesn't believe in PR-ing something

that isn't good,' says Kirstine Cox, an account manager in WSW's

broadcast unit. 'He's not a PR luvvie - he's a team player and a fair

boss,' she adds.



In an otherwise natural career path - from local paper, to regional TV

news, to high-brow national TV news and then into corporate PR - there

is a bizarre anomaly on Houlgate's CV. For a brief period, he reveals

that he acted as launch news editor for L!VE TV, the news channel famed

for its irreverence and news bunny gimmick. He swears, however, he left

before the introduction of the news bunny.



Needless to say, his journalistic qualities were not ideally suited to

the role and he quit after just five months.



But at KPMG, you could say Houlgate has found his ideal niche - he can

maintain his many contacts in the news media, while sitting comfortably

in the corporate world.



'The way I like to run PR is to use the news values that I've learnt in

the past - those skills will never leave me,' he says.



It seems with his current employers, Houlgate now has the best of both

worlds.



HIGHLIGHTS

1982: Chief sub-editor, Thames News

1995: Executive producer - business, Sky News

1999: Associate director - broadcast, Shandwick Int'national

2001: UK corp comms head, KPMG



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