Newsmaker: The "strategic brain" taking the helm at Fishburn

Ali Gee, the former Edelman planning chief who has just been handed the role of driving the integration of the three agencies in the Fishburn Hedges Group, is the right woman for the job, according to former clients.

Ali Gee: announced as Fishburn chief executive on Monday
Ali Gee: announced as Fishburn chief executive on Monday

In a move to offer clients an approach Gee describes as "channel agnostic", London and New York-based corporate PR agency Fishburn Hedges, consumer PR agency 77 and branding and design consultancy Further will be bundled over the New Year into a new entity called simply Fishburn.

That Gee was recruited in the role of group planning and strategy director at the start of this year, and Fishburn Hedges CEO Fiona Thorne departed in the autumn and was not replaced, might indicate that integration was already on the agenda at the Omnicom agency.

Simon Matthews, the group CEO until now, has asked Gee to take over the running of the business and is moving the role of chairman of Fishburn. He will spend more time working with clients, particularly those with which he has a close relationship, including BT and Nintendo.

The move to integrate make sense according to Unilever's global comms director Andrew Platt Higgins, a former client of Gee’s from her days at Edelman, where she was both director of planning and global client relationship manager for the FMCG company.

"We’ve all grown up with our own media preferences and habits are hard to break," he says. "We need advice on how our techniques can be optimised and how new tools can fit in with existing tools. It’s easy to spend a lot of money online in the same way it was easy to spend a lot of money with traditional channels. We’re looking for someone who knows their way around the landscape."

He praises Gee's strong grasp of strategy and ability to bring people together: "It’s good to see someone from the planning competency at the top of the business. It gives the message to clients that this is a business that views strategy as a core competency."

Another former client – RSA group head of media and digital content Jon Sellors – agrees. Sellors worked with Gee when she was head of consultancy at 3 Monkeys and says he has frequently used her as a sounding board since.

"I’ve been in PR for 17 years and she is the best strategic brain that I’ve worked with," he says. "She has an innate ability to really interrogate a brief, assimilating complex information and getting to the heart of the matter. She can take a business challenge, break it apart and work out how to tackle it."

Gee explains that even before the relaunch as one agency, the three businesses have all been working together.

"Culturally that suits us very well," she says. "People are open to integration and learning new skills a lot more than in many other places."

Gee describes her former and new roles as being about "ensuring that we do better work and are channel agnostic in the ways we go about advising clients".

The key to this is research, she stresses: "We have more research tools than any other agency. We use those tools to ensure our work is as thoughtful and intelligent as it can be and this allows us to make a decision on which channels to use."

Sellors says the direction Fishburn is going in is a no-brainer, but warns that successfully managing a change like this requires clear strategic direction.

"Her planning and strategic skills will be useful when plotting the next stages for the combined business," he says. "It can only help to have someone with that strategic background."

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