Profile: Trevor Morris, QBO-BPPR

Diversity of PR world still presents a challenge to the ever youthful Morris.

Oscar Wilde's anti-hero Dorian Gray had a portrait of himself in the attic which grew older while he remained youthful. The impossibly youthful former model Trevor Morris is not saying whether he has a similarly ailing alter ego, but as Biss Lancaster chairman Graham Lancaster says: 'He's got a great presence: the voice, the looks, that sort of thing.'

After 20 years working his way through the ranks at QBO, he must also have talent, of course, and he is about to take it with him to a new role.

Early in 2003, troubled holding group Chime Communications - which last week lost 70 per cent of its value after a devastating profits warning - is merging QBO with another Chime subsidiary, Bell Pottinger Public Relations. Morris will become chairman and chief executive of the new entity, called QBO-BPPR ('oh, that's creative,' miaows one rival), with 60 staff and specialisms from sports sponsorship to public affairs.

The merger has been sold on allowing the two firms to reach their growth aims, and Morris does not dispute that they might fail to do so without the change. 'Both companies have rising revenues and profits so this is not being done from a position of weakness,' he says. 'But both could do with a more critical mass.'

He defines this as having enough people to cope with a job at short notice, plus a fuller range of skills: 'Both have a populist, consumerist view.

There are no conflicts but there is overlap in the middle,' he continues. 'That's good, that's the heart, which is in really understanding the media and how it interacts with business organisations, the public and government.'

Yet dreams of creating a single culture out of merged companies can fade rapidly as entrenched groups of staff simply continue in their pre-determined bubbles under a new roof. 'It won't be one culture from day one,' Morris admits. 'But I hope that, three to six months in, there'll be no "them and us". The important thing from the client point of view is that teams remain the same.'

Morris should at least be in a good position to judge the mood of staff.

He is an office walker, a keen advocate of doing the rounds of the floors, being seen by his people - something he learnt from an early stint in retail marketing.

He made a deliberate move from marketing into PR in 1982, believing it to be both more interesting than advertising and possessing greater potential for growth.

'People were getting better off, better educated,' he recalls. 'There were the early signs of media fragmentation. Business was simpler. There was no media debate about PR and 50 per cent or more of your clients or prospects hadn't used PR. Many were confused about the difference between media relations and paid-for space.'

Things have changed. 'The competitive set is more difficult now, of course, but it is easier in the sense that clients have a much greater understanding of what PR can do,' he adds.

After two decades at the same firm, there must surely be doubts over his ability to motivate himself. Morris is, unsurprisingly, ready for this one. 'When I started, I was the fourth person at QBO,' he says. 'Then there was the growing phase, then we bought out Quentin (Bell, the founder).

We ran it on our own and then sold to Chime. Now it is another new phase.

Also, PR is forever changing: the diversity of clients, and the issues you work on.'

Morris has a reputation as a fan of the good life, but according to GCI UK chief executive Adrian Wheeler, there have been changes to the party animal of the 1980s: 'He used to be a bit wild but has mellowed with the passing of the years.'

Shorn this year of his Bryan Ferryesque fringe (for charity), Morris continues his longstanding relationship with Fulham FC, commutes to work on a Vespa, and remains a regular fixture at The Ivy. It's just that these days at lunch he talks more about his children than the business, says Wheeler.

Morris believes the perfect PRO would be an 'intelligent dilettante', interested in a lot of things. He insists he has not thought of this as a self-description but, on this, he is unconvincing.

'He's a bit of a maverick,' says Wheeler. 'He has his own opinion on almost everything and is not afraid of expressing it.'

People with opinions who are also not afraid to express them can sometimes come across as abrasive. But not Morris. With his gravelly voice and youthful, engaging manner, he can get away with being more forceful than most. It seems to have worked alright so far.

HIGHLIGHTS

1982: Account director, Quentin Bell Organisation

1984: Managing director, QBO

1995: Chairman, QBO

2003: Chairman and CEO, QBO-BPPR

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