Profile: Chris Ward, Beatwax Communications

After Friends Reunited, Beatwax CEO Chris Ward is keen for new challenges

Chris Ward's main claim to fame in his seven years of managing bands was handling the support act that toured with Debbie Harry. But as a PR impresario he has made an indelible mark as the man who delivered the coverage for web phenomenon Friends Reunited.

This work shot Ward's agency, Beatwax Communications, to the fore. Along with a track record in music, film and campaigns for brands such as Stella Artois, the Friends Reunited work prompted last year's lucrative sale of his agency to the Miracle Media Group.

MMG chairman John Reiss praises Ward for his ability to 'think laterally in a creative way in campaigns or in pitches'.

Ward is an energetic cocktail of entrepreneur, 'good Samaritan' and hard-drinking West Ham supporter. On the last day of the football season - on which his beloved Hammers were relegated by Birmingham City - he cycled from London to Birmingham, raising money for the Bobby Moore Cancer Fund.

This week he received registration from the Samaritans after working with the organisation for eight months. Then his 40th birthday three weeks ago saw a drinking bout at local pub The Endurance, which he supplied with Astroturf to form a playing surface in the garden.

Ward's rise can be tracked through his ability to spot a gap in the market.

He kicked off his career aged 23, managing obscure bands, but in 1992 saw an opportunity when the Tories said they would dramatically boost student numbers. Ward went through complex negotiations with student unions to target students for brands, and formed Beatwax to run this.

This background may have helped him win work with Friends Reunited joint-founder Steve Pankhurst.

Pankhurst recalls their first meeting: 'We went to his office in Westbourne Park and it was a complete tip. He was late, nobody knew what they were doing and there were crates of Stella Artois lying around.'

Unlike the other agencies Pankhurst saw, whose staff wore suits and ties and 'gave us the corporate line', Ward spoke the 'same language'. He adds:'Chris was on the same wavelength as us.'

Pankhurst describes Ward as dynamic and a 'really strong ideas man', and now a 'good mate'.

Ward was instrumental in pushing the husband and wife element of Friends Reunited, then building up regional coverage so that the brand had critical mass in terms of member numbers when journalists came on board.

Having pocketed an undisclosed sum from the sale of Beatwax, Ward has seen the agency double in size to 45 staff in 18 months,with a turnover of £4.5m-a-year. Ongoing work includes replacing Stella Artois's seven-year-old outdoor screening strategy with a new push featuring 'chill-out nights' with DJs in venues such as the ICA.

Ward is quick to reject suggestions that the widening of the company's activities - through MMG it now has a host of related marketing techniques in its kit bag - risks it losing its youth communications nous. 'No,' he says, sharply. 'People do not leave Beatwax. We keep the most creative people at the core of the business. I do not wear a suit. We have a culture and that is still there.'

Ward echoes the agency's stated USP, to be a specialist in the consumer market but not in any one sector. According to the bumf, the firm uses 'unique ideas' to engage the consumers' senses and 'cause them to talk positively about it to their peers'. 'We never price up what out PR is worth in column inches,' he claims. 'I do not take PR in isolation.'

Warming to his theme, he points to a major irritation: 'The worst thing is when you get a client who says "This is what we want to PR". PR should integrate and dictate aspects of the business.'

Ward says the question should not be 'what is the PR element of this business?', but 'how you should change the business to make it more "PRable"'.

He says the agency tries to identify the 'personality' of products, and tries to establish why a CD or pair of jeans is cool or sporty.

'If you are creating and implementing a campaign you see what else is out there with the same personality. You identify the competition and bear it in mind, steal ideas or apply elements in a different way,' he says.

Ward says his next major challenge is to boost member numbers at another of his innovations now owned by MMG - Hollywood research firm First Movies.

Members sign up for free movies and incentives, but provide feedback to enable Hollywood studios to target their marketing more effectively.

With that and Beatwax, three children and a new nostalgia cards business to run with his wife, Ward has his work cut out.

HIGHLIGHTS

1980: Student, Art foundation course

1981: Record library cataloguer, The BBC

1985: Owner, Music management company

1992: Chief executive, Beatwax Communications

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