Profile: Alan Edwards, The Outside Organisation

Robbie Williams' new PR adviser still loves the work after almost 30 years

Robbie Williams' record breaking £80m deal with EMI struck a strong sense of deja vu for his newly-appointed PR adviser. It was in 1975 that Alan Edwards oversaw publicity for The Stranglers when they burst onto the front of The Evening Standard with the biggest ever recording deal - of £40,000.

Twenty-seven years later and the CEO of The Outside Organisation is still at the forefront of celebrity publicity. But as the deals multiply in value and the role of the celebrity PR increases, the rewards for those in charge remain low compared with those of corporate accounts.

'There is a problem getting value into celebrity PR,' says Edwards. 'But then I didn't come into this business with profit in mind. I was born to do it.'

GQ editor Dylan Jones ranks Edwards as the PR chief to be working with.

He says: 'PR people often give you the big hello but gradually the offering diminishes. Alan works the other way round.'

At age 13 Edwards was avidly reading music magazines and sending in reviews.

'I never got a response from the bastards,' he says, with mock bitterness.

But four years later Edwards had cracked the music magazines and was regularly getting paid £5 per article - despite it costing him £15 in 'drinks and tube fare' to cover the gigs. Under the tutelage of former NME editor Keith Altham, who offered him a job at his publicity firm, Edwards broke into entertainment PR working on rock legends The Who.

After three years Altham gave Edwards the break he needed, allowing him to create a sub-division with a roster of his own clients which exploited the apprentice's own contacts in the punk scene. Among his clients were The Stranglers and Blondie.

That led to his role as publicity manager for The Rolling Stones for six months from 1982, when Edwards was just 24. Mick Jagger demanded that the fresh-faced PRO tour with the group around Europe, so Edwards found himself hastily trying to negotiate around Europe-wide media and having local reviews translated in hotels at midnight for the band. 'They expected a high level of service but were brilliant to work for,' he says.

His journey through the world of musicians and celebrity PR was interrupted by a brief stint in 1988 with US film specialist Rogers and Cowan, which hired him to run its entertainment division. Despite widening his experience, Edwards did not enjoy what he felt was a slower pace of decision making than he was used to.

On his return in 1990, he formed Poole Edwards, which eventually evolved into Outside. One current longstanding client who Edwards met through his previous US employer was David Bowie, who he says was an 'inspirational client, artist and human being'.

Edwards also played a role in the rise of The Spice Girls, advising the band on operating a more 'open door' relationship after he took over the account from Simon Fuller.

Edwards met David Beckham at the Spice Girls' Madison Square Garden concert in New York, following the footballer's red card during the now famous England Argentina World Cup clash in 1998. He was then key to Beckham's media 'restabilisation' via selected exposure in outlets such as Esquire and Time Out: 'These were not obvious places to see a footballer,' he says.

'They illustrated that there was a depth and substance to David.'

Despite his own image as a creature of the easygoing artistic community, Edwards has built up a successful and profitable operation, and has diversified the offer to include new media work and radio plugging.

But he rejects claims he has changed from a maverick music impresario to a suit. He says: 'I do not see it that way. There is a maverick bit of me and that never really goes away. I still have the same passion and enthusiasm.'

He remains ambiguous about selling the company, while claiming that he has had approaches: 'I think about it from time to time. We are enjoying what we are doing but if something interesting comes along I will look at in the time and place, but I do not wake up thinking about it.'

Rival entertainment PRO Mark Borkowski rates Edwards, and praises his unrivalled links to tabloid editors: 'If he was in corporate PR he would be paid a king's ransom for his knowledge and the advice that goes with that.'

Despite Edwards' insistence that the stories are more important than the money, with Outside at the top of its game, his next challenge is to realise that king's ransom.

HIGHLIGHTS

1974: PR assistant, Keith Altham Publicity

1977: Founder, Modern Publicity

1978: Founder, Grant Edwards

1990: Head of entertainment, Rogers and Cowan

1995: Founder, Outside Organisation

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