CAMPAIGNS: PROFILE: Cathy Pittham, Firefly Communications - Pittham embarks on a challenge at Firefly

Former agency MD Cathy Pittham rejoins the tech PR world at Firefly

rase, 'keep your friends close, keep your rivals closer' has any truth to it, then Firefly Communications' recruitment of Cathy Pittham as a director could prove a shrewd move. As a technology PR expert with two decades experience, she has knowledge of agencies at almost all levels, from her own start-up in the 1980s, to running key divisions at larger firms, including the UK tech arm of Weber Shandwick.

'Firefly has been a rival for some time. If we walked out of a pitch and saw them walk in we thought we were in trouble,' she says.

But given the depleted senior ranks at Firefly, the hiring of a previous competitor of Pittham's stature appears to not just be borne of shrewdness, but also of necessity.

In the last month four out of six senior directors have departed following a failed boardroom coup. And last week PRWeek revealed that this state of affairs had led to trophy client Hutchison 3G putting the firm on notice.

Aside from Pittham, only MD Claire Walker and husband and director Mark Mellor are left on the now radically streamlined board.

Pittham tactfully describes the recent past as 'eventful,' but is, unsurprisingly, more eager to talk of her plans for the future. She says she will have a client-facing role as well as co-managing the firm and helping with the agency's planned diversification, looking for opportunities in the financial, professional services and legal sectors as well its established core market of technology.

Pittham joins Firefly after nine months out of the industry following her departure from Weber Shandwick, where she was tech CEO in the UK.

Despite not working since, Pittham has been far from idle in exploring new professional opportunities. This included an aborted attempt earlier this year to set up a global agency with a number of former WS colleagues.

This group is thought to have included Marijean Lauzier, formerly president and COO of the firm.

'We looked at the market and the results were not great. It was decided that it was not the best time to go ahead with it,' she says.

When the Firefly offer came in, within the last few weeks, Pittham describes it as 'serendipity,' adding: 'The time and place were right'.

Philip Dewhurst, former Weber Shandwick UK CEO, believes Firefly has made the right appointment: 'This is exactly the kind of situation she's good at handling ... she brings calmness and dignity.'

Her career started at robotics and software firm Sykes Group in 1981, where she started as a 'dogsbody'. She was soon headhunted by the firm's PR agency Public Image Limited where she moved from trainee account executive to account manager, handling clients including the then ICL.

After two years she joined the Grayling Group as a director tasked with building up its tech practice, before quitting in 1987 to spend nine years running her own agency Spreckley Pittham with business partner Mike Spreckley.

Following, 'an agreement to disagree' over the direction of the agency, she was bought out by Spreckley in 1996 - the agency is now known only as Spreckley Partners. She then spent a year with B2B specialist Icas, to set up its tech division, before joining Weber Group in 1997 as deputy MD.

During her five years with the Interpublic-owned firm, she rose through the ranks and went through two mergers, first with the then Shandwick International in 2000, then with BSMG Worldwide last year.

Saying 'it became a different place to the business I joined' she says she doesn't miss 'the monthly trips to the West Coast' or what she claims was the advertising driven nature of a US marcoms giant.

She does, however, look back fondly on her role in mentoring staff, adding: 'I'm still in contact with many of them. That's what gives me satisfaction, seeing those people develop.'

In terms of what staff at Firefly can expect of their new director, Pittham says her overriding hate is ego. 'There no place for it in PR - you should be invisible because the job is to represent the client.'

Other dislikes include 'those who won't embrace change' and prejudice.

She mentions sexism in particular, something she 'dealt with in spades' in parts of the US business sector.

But despite her criticisms of the US her use of jargon shows that perhaps its influence remains. When talking of her future at Firefly she uses jarring, transatlantic phrases such as 'holistic communications counsel' and talks of clients wanting 'reality' not someone 'blowing smoke up their arse'. Tough talking indeed, to match challenging times ahead for her new employer.

HIGHLIGHTS

1982: Account director, Public Image

1987: Joint MD, Spreckley Pittham

2000: CEO - Technology, Weber Shandwick Europe

2002: Director, Firefly Communications

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