PROFILE: Graham Lancaster, PRCA - Leadership intent for Lancaster at the PRCA. - Contacts king Graham Lancaster to boost the association's membership

Despite never having been profiled by this publication until now, freshly installed PRCA chairman Graham Lancaster has become something of a fixture in this slot. He boasts the unusual record of being one of the most oft-quoted character referees in pieces on other members of the PR industry.

That he is so frequently asked to vouch for his peers is a clear indication of the high regard in which he is held by the industry, and the breadth of contacts he has accumulated during three decades in the trade.

It is these contacts whom he hopes will benefit from his vision for the role of the PRCA during his tenure as chairman: 'To our members I think we're seen as helpful but not intrusive enough into the day-to-day running of their businesses.

'We need to raise our profile with members to make the day-to-day activity more obvious. We've started with benchmarking and it has resulted in practical tips on how to run a better business,' he adds.

PRCA membership is still not ubiquitous among agencies. Lancaster is keen to take steps to address pockets of resistance: 'We have to explain more about what we do. There are gaps in the membership in certain areas, particularly financial, healthcare and - to some extent - the tech sector. We need to build bridges and gain their trust and show it is in the self-interest of agencies to be members.'

Of the current economic difficulties, Lancaster sees reason for optimism for the long-term condition of the industry: 'I'm very conscious that our members have gone through the crucible of a recession. Despite that, PR is no longer the first thing companies cut back on. We'll come out of it with better management in consultancies and with healthier salary-to-income ratios.'

Lancaster dismisses the suggestion that many small to medium sized agencies remain poorly managed: 'Most agencies have an eye for the next stage of their development, whether that is being acquired or floating. People know that the acquiring companies know exactly what ratios to look for, and also the cash-flow that is needed. When the short-term ambition is to be acquired, it leads to very strong discipline in the running of the agency.'

Lancaster sees his own role at the PRCA as providing leadership - and a media-trained figurehead - to the body.

He excludes raising the profile of the PRCA brand from his targets for his tenure: 'If I'm a marketing director or a journalist, why would I need to know the PRCA's there?'.

'It's the result of the work we should care about, there's no reason for the PRCA to be on everybody's lips, and I don't believe it should be for a niche trade association,' he argues.

He does, though, acknowledge the need to be seen as a voice for the industry: 'I don't see our role as fire-fighting with spin stuff. I want consultancies to be seen as players. I want them to be seen like management consultants, accountants and legal advisers at board-level and for it to be desirable to have professional PR help.'

Attempts to change the status of the PR industry inevitably will involve the IPR, too, of which Lancaster was made a fellow last month. Close relations between the bodies remain important, he says: 'There's no question - we will grow ever more closely together, we've a great deal in common. However, the two organisations have very different roles - we are about helping agencies win, keep and grow business. The IPR has a wider role.'

In addition to juggling his roles with the PRCA, Biss Lancaster EURO RSCG and Leedex EURO RSCG (which he also chairs following its acquisition by parent EURO RSCG), Lancaster is currently working on his seventh book, after a batch of crime thrillers: 'It's a big part of my life, I consider myself to be a writer. It's a big part of who I am and I'm never happy unless I have a book to work on,' he says.

There is no shortage of candidates to vouch for Lancaster. Nick Mason-Pearson, head of PR at search engine Ask Jeeves, is one of those who has worked alongside Lancaster in the 24 years since he co-founded Biss Lancaster. He describes Lancaster as 'unflappable': 'PR people often end up running around frantically. With Graham, when you walk into his office, there's an air of calm about him.

If he does flap, then he does it in quite a quirky way.'

With the book in production, and a major agency and trade body to head, his calm outlook will be of great value to him in the busy year ahead.

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