Profile: Bernard Doherty - Satisfaction guaranteed

The CEO of LD Communications masterminds PR for global rock icons including The Rolling Stones, finds Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith.

Bernard Doherty
Bernard Doherty

After leaving school with nothing but an O-level and a passion for Mot-own, Bernard Doherty made it in the music biz the old fashioned way.

He started his career in music in 1972 as a post room assistant at Island Records. Forty years later, he is the PR guru behind rock legends such as The Rolling Stones and Tina Turner, and has enjoyed the type of career that makes musos drool.

Doherty, 63, has worked with David Bowie and Paul McCartney, been on the road with Guns N' Roses and Aerosmith, seen countless gigs at Soho's Marquee Club and handled comms for the first Live Aid concert. But there is one thing the LD Communications co-founder is adamant about: 'I'm not a dinosaur.'

Despite a traditional attitude to PR, which means setting up stunts, getting on the phone and obtaining coverage on TV and radio and in the press, Doherty is not a man stuck in the past.

He readily admits he has kept hardly any memorabilia from his 40 years in the music business: 'You know that great Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back? I'm like him. Don't look back.'

Indeed, the windowsill in his office only has a handful of books on the Stones, a couple of prized awards for his work on Live Aid and 15 years on the Brit Awards... and a UK road map.

'It's to get me to Donnington!' he exclaims, referring to the Leicestershire venue where Download, a festival client of eight years, pitches up every summer. 'You're only as good as your last event,' he says, uninterested in going over old ground.

At six foot, four inches tall, Doherty has an imposing figure, though his personality is nowhere near as daunting. An energetic and entertaining presence, he is most animated when he talks about what his agency is doing in the present.

He goes through his most recent packed weekly schedule. He has held 'major meetings with management at the BBC' about its Glastonbury coverage of the Stones, the delicate issue of access to the band and how much the BBC is granted.

Then there is the breaking news of Tina Turner's proposed wedding. The singer has 'summoned' him to handle crisis comms for the event. There is also an upcoming charity motorbike race involving Iron Maiden's manager, while LD team leader Karen McNamara has just completed a stunt involving Bruce Springsteen and 40 extremely happy music journalists in Oslo. The list goes on.

The rock 'n' roll life, however, is not all plain sailing. Doherty tells of the 'nervous times' recently when the Saturday editions of The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Star were all running festival guides, and the team had to pull out all the stops to get their events featured.

'It's not as easy as it sounds,' he says. 'With those guides, we can find that some of our non-camping events don't get featured, and boy do our clients let us know.'

Conversely, The Mail on Sunday's Event magazine recently ran a list of the top 50 events taking place in the UK, three of which were LD festivals. 'This was a high-five moment in the agency,' says Doherty.

'Everyone will take a call from Bernard,' says Peter Willis, weekday editor of the Daily Mirror. 'He's old-fashioned in that he is on the phone first and always has great ideas, but there's always a reason why he is calling. Bernard is well-established, wellconnected and actually knows the clients he is representing.' Willis adds: 'There's only a handful of people like him left - Alan Edwards, Gary Farrow, Barbara Charone and Moira Bellas.'

While Doherty takes great pride in his work, he continually champions the hard graft of his team, especially business partner and LD co-founder Claire Singers. 'Without her, I'd probably be working out of a cardboard box somewhere. I am the rough diamond, the pushy boy from Essex. She is organised, very together and makes this company what it is,' he says.

The Stones are clearly his pride and joy. Yes, he is friends with them, but 'you have to be professional at all times', he says. 'That's why I've worked with them for nearly three decades. Without sounding brash, they only pay for the best.'

Doherty is looking ahead to the Stones' Hyde Park gigs in July, the first time they will have played there since their seminal 1969 performance. He explains with a smile that he wants to crop the grass with a massive Forty Licks logo that will be captured by the helicopter filming overhead.

The Stones' famous longevity has obviously rubbed off on him too.'Oh, it ain't over yet,' he says with a twinkle in his eye.

It seems Mick and Keith are not always right - you can sometimes get what you want after all.

CV
1996: Co-founder and CEO, LD Communications
1989: Director, Laister Dickson PR
1985: Head of comms, Band Aid/Live Aid
1981: Head of music division, Rogers & Cowan PR
1979: Press and promotions manager, Hannibal Records
1974: Tour manager and promotions, Jo Lustig Management
1972: Artist and repertoire assistant, Island Records

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

Meeting Bob Geldof in a Soho coffee bar and hearing his plans for a massive global concert in aid of famine relief in Africa. I summoned up the bravado to tell him how to go about launching it, how to work the media and how to win over public opinion through his bloody-minded attitude.

Have you had a notable mentor?

Jo Lustig, a hustling American PR man, who gave me my first proper job and taught me everything, including never to be intimidated by anyone. Claire Singers, my partner in crime at LD Communications, is a trusted adviser. She is the calm in the storm and has catapulted LD into the big-time event PR firm it is today.

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

It is crucial you know your subject. Read the papers every day and don't get caught out with breaking news.

What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

I ask myself two questions. Firstly, six months from now will I be confident enough to send this person alone to advise one of my longstanding clients? Secondly, have they told me something new and exciting about the ever-changing media landscape?

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