PROFILE: David Gallagher, Ketchum London - Ketchum Texan sets his sights on buying

David Gallagher is attached to his roots, but is in London for the duration.

David Gallagher has had a passion for news since his childhood.

But the Texan, last week promoted to chief executive of Ketchum London, concedes he wasn't sure at first whether he'd end up a journalist or a PR man.

Gallagher, from Round Rock, outside Austin, says he was fascinated by newspapers as a youth, an interest triggered by his grandfather, who ran three papers in rural Oklahoma.

'Man, I liked to see those presses roll,' he recalls, his Texan accent diluted by three years in London and six on the US east coast.

Though proud of his roots - he wore cowboy boots to October's PRWeek Awards - he says he couldn't wait to get out of the Lone Star State to help his career. The journalism graduate landed his first proper job in Washington DC 'writing and editing documents' at the National Mental Health Association.

He concedes that he had very little initial interest in PR, saying his subsequent path through various healthcare PR roles to his current job 'hasn't been part of a game plan', but when he joined the American Diabetes Association as PR manager, he says, he soon 'got the PR bug'.

He remembers being 'pretty green' when, as a 24-year-old, he received a 'stern telling-off' from his bosses for giving an interview in what he describes as 'Texan Spanish', which resulted in his own picture and quotes appearing in print, not those of his bosses.

After a year at Barksdale Ballard, a 20-strong PR firm in Alexandria, Virginia, he joined Ketchum, the Omnicom-backed PR giant, as healthcare vice-president in Washington. In 2000 he answered a call from the late James Maxwell to become Ketchum's European healthcare managing director.

Gallagher, who became deputy chief executive when he brought Mark Cater back from New York to be UK healthcare chief, was confirmed in the top role last week when former incumbent Jon Higgins was promoted to European chief executive.

Gallagher and Higgins, also an American, organised a staff barbecue to mark 4 July, creating the impression of an agency with a solidly American esprit, but one Ketchum staffer describes Gallagher as an 'American with a truly British sense of humour'.

Resident in Hampstead, north London, Gallagher spends much of his social time with his family, including two young children, which means he's been 'watching lots of Noddy' and has seen 'every museum in London'.

Gallagher is not one for industry schmoozing, preferring to spend time with his family. He believes the UK PR industry is 'more creative and faster' than its cousin in the US, pointing out that the financial, political and entertainment hubs are 'within a few blocks', whereas in the US they are spread between New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

However, he is critical of what he sees as British PROs' 'general pre-occupation with the print media' ahead of broadcast outlets, particularly radio. He says: 'I don't often hear people saying: "What about radio?

Is this a drivetime story?"'

As to Ketchum itself, Gallagher reports 'solid and satisfying' UK growth in the past two years. Staff numbers have remained consistent in that time, although he argues that Ketchum is now 'more efficient' because designers and admin staff have been axed in favour of more account handlers. 'I think the industry got a little bloated, and I'm not excluding Ketchum from that,' he says.

Gallagher's determination to grow Ketchum's UK presence is strong. He cites agency acquisitions as a 'serious priority', hinting that at least one corporate and public affairs firm will be bought within the next year.

Chris Salt, deputy chief executive at sister-Omnicom firm Gavin Anderson & Co, says Gallagher has an 'understated intelligence that clients appreciate'.

Despite his promotion, Gallagher plans to continue spending at least half his time on day-to-day client work, with the rest split between 'HR-related stuff', administration and chasing new business.

He reiterates that he's never had a personal 'game plan' but, showing the same enthusiasm with which he describes his grandfather's printing presses back in Oklahoma, he says he expects to be in London for 'the duration'.

But he concludes: 'Someone asked me if there's an organogram for Ketchum, and I hate that. If we drew one, I think we'd turn it upside down.'

HIGHLIGHTS

1988: Writer/editor, US National Mental Health Association

1992: PR manager, American Diabetes Association

1994: Vice-president healthcare, Ketchum Washington DC

2000: Managing director Europe healthcare, Ketchum London

2003: Chief executive, Ketchum London

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