Profile: Laurence the secret showman - Andy Laurence, chairman and chief executive EMEA, Hill & Knowlton

Touring Britain with theatre impresario Bill Kenwright promoting Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the early 1980s, Andy Laurence could scarcely have imagined himself as a top suit at Hill & Knowlton, the PR giant that last week promoted him to chairman and CEO across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

But his theatrical past, which does not shine through at first sight, had other such outlets, including an intriguing former role as the 'freeze-frame shot' in a TV ad for ice-lolly brand Lyons Maid ('pina colada on a stick').

After rugby-playing schooldays at Wellingborough School in Northamptonshire, he took a law degree at Reading University and then went to drama school, where he met his wife. He now lives with her in East Dulwich with their two daughters.

In truth, Laurence was actually an actor for three years - 'one-man shows, the fringe and so on' - before taking up his first PR job as a press officer at the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC), the body set up to attract investors to the Isle of Dogs.

Much of the Isle of Dogs redevelopment might today seem a glittering success, but Laurence remembers the PR team flying groups of US and Japanese journalists at 820 feet above the site in a helicopter in a bid to woo much-needed foreign capital.

It was at the LDDC, he says that he 'learned the trade' of both media relations and public affairs. After three years he joined H&K as an account director, aged 31.

Laurence, now 46, has had a stellar rise through the ranks of the WPP-owned agency, and has been the driving force behind the growth of the agency's corporate practice, of which he was made MD in 1994.

Described as 'a top-level corporate adviser - one of the best in Europe', by an ex-colleague, Laurence is happier talking about client work than about himself (he even emails after the interview: 'Please don't make it too much "me" - we really are a team at H&K').

His international responsibilities have continued to grow throughout the past decade, but after only a week in his new EMEA chief executive role, he says he is 'already noticing a change to the pace of life'.

He has travelled to Finland to meet H&K's regional managers, hosted a crisis management workshop, worked on existing clients and explored new business opportunities.

'My new role is about working with large clients, making sure we deliver quality. What drives me is finding better and better solutions,' he says.

One specific plan is to 'move experience around the company' - there are 27 wholly owned and 11 affiliate offices within his remit. As a keen guitarist, he later adds he has already found 'two sax players and a concert-level violinist'!

As to how H&K and, more generally, the PR industry can grow, Laurence points out how many countries within his remit have under-developed corporate PR sectors relative to the UK.

'It's about raising the game - moving up a level in the quality of advice.

But we need to crack the research and evaluation challenge and better promote the case for our discipline,' he says.

Reiterating his passion for creating better solutions for clients, he is keen to stress: 'I get frustrated when good advice is rejected.'

'The issue of financial irregularities is moving through Europe at a pace - you have to communicate in these situations, but there are companies that try to resist that,' he says. 'You have to tackle things head-on.

If you leave something, it lingers. I can think of occasions when that has happened.'

Laurence describes himself as 'measured' and 'understated' but admits that peforming guitar solos at H&K parties lend him a 'hint of flamboyance'.

Marks & Spencer comms director Flic Howard-Allen spent 13 years at H&K and describes her former colleague as a 'down-to-earth strategist' who can 'turn his thoughts into practice with a twist of creativity'.

As to the future, Laurence says he 'always works to three-year plans' and declines to speculate beyond that period. But he is clearly as committed as ever to the H&K cause. Staff who enjoy seeing such an elevated corporate figure reprising his early showman years will be thankful for that.

RESUME

1986 Press and PR officer, London Docklands Development Corporation

1989 Account director, Hill & Knowlton

1994 MD corporate division, Hill & Knowlton

1999 Joint-CEO UK, Hill & Knowlton

2001 Practices chairman EMEA, deputy chairman UK, Hill & Knowlton

2004 Chairman and CEO EMEA, Hill & Knowlton

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