Profile: Tiger Bell ready for F-H fight - Kevin Bell, managing director, Fleishman-Hillard UK

Kevin Bell exudes charm, polish and ardour - in an agreeable, English way. These are qualities that will be required in abundance if the seasoned lobbyist is to fire up American PR colossus Fleishman-Hillard's (F-H) rather lacklustre UK operation. It is a company from over there that has been doing not so well over here.

Previous UK managing director Scott Clark, the placid young guy from Colorado who originally sold his healthcare agency CPR to the firm, has gone back home. And so after four years as managing director at F-H's public affairs arm GPC International, Bell, 46, has stepped into the wider role, overseeing a £9m business.

Bell passes 25 years in the public affairs industry in May. 'I'm a PR man who just happens to have been working in public affairs for most of my career,' he says, no doubt conscious of the broader challenges now under his remit.

He began his career working at the eponymous agency of Tory MP Michael Forsyth. A stint at Profile Political Relations led to him co-founding Westminster Strategy alongside renowned lobbyists Rosemary Grogan and Michael Burrell, and taking a subsequent wider role at parent Grayling. He was later asked by namesake Tim Bell to set up Lowe Bell Political (which would become Bell Pottinger Public Affairs), and joined GPC in 2000.

As part of its strategy to widen the F-H brand to encompass all PR practices, GPC, a stalwart in the lobbying industry, will be phased out to become F-H Government Affairs, but only 'when it's commercially the right thing to do' - almost certainly this year.

On his present mission, Bell is calculatedly bullish: 'F-H is number one in America and I'm determined F-H will be number one in the UK if it kills me.' But this won't be achieved by winning new business alone: 'One of the strengths of this agency is persuading clients to do more and spend more.'

Bell's style of leadership looks set to be decidedly hands-on. 'I'm very loyal to my colleagues. I'm a tiger for looking after my people and putting them first and making sure the clients get looked after.' However, BP-PA managing director Peter Bingle, a former colleague at Westminster Strategy and Bell's immediate predecessor in the GPC job, says: 'When things are going well, Kevin's a great networker. When not, he's temperamental. The Americans will like him. He will flatter and make clients feel at ease.'

Bell, who accepts that temperamentality is his main weakness, is a Thatcherite and openly gay. He is an out-and-out libertarian on matters social and economic. He is a trustee of free market think tank The Institute of Economic Affairs. And upon telling me he is 'on the hunt for some very good people', he can't resist quipping: 'I'm a great advocate of hunting.'

His upbringing - born in Sunderland and raised in Durham - serves as something of a counterpoint to his make up: 'I grew up around this hotbed of North-East socialism, which didn't appeal to me very much.' Studying politics at Reading University during the 70s Labour government helped flesh out his political beliefs.

Bell's proudest career achievements have been advising the Football League in its campaign against ITV Digital over TV rights payments, and representing the Communication Workers Union in its 1995 campaign to stop the privatisation of the Post Office.

But Bell is driven, ultimately, by fun: 'My purpose in life is to enjoy myself. I enjoy it by earning a decent whack so I can fund my rather hedonistic lifestyle.' He spreads his time between London, Gloucestershire and Vienna with classical music record producer and partner of 18 years Michael Hass.

'I like successful things, nice things, pretty people. I enjoy good food, wine, open spaces and skiing.' He also reveals a penchant for South Africa: 'The smells and the people.'

With such palpable desire for the finer things, is Bell able to tough it out when required? The Prince of Wales' express secretary Mark Bolland, a former client of Bell's at the Advertising Standards Authority, says: 'He was very energetic and charming. The new job is an opportunity to prove himself again.'

At the moment, the tiger's hunger for success prevails. The next few months at F-H should be interesting.

RESUME

1980: Director, Michael Forsyth Associates

1987: Founding director, Westminster Strategy

1994: Founding director, Lowe Bell Political

2000: Managing director, GPC International

2004: Managing director, Fleishman-Hillard UK

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.

News by email...