Profile: Richard Anderson, De Facto Communications

Richard Anderson has just sold De Facto Communications, the life-sciences agency he runs as CEO, to Lord Bell’s Chime Communications in a deal worth up to £2m (PRWeek, 23 September).

Not a bad return for someone who two decades ago was left grappling for a career having abandoned a PhD at
Imperial College London because he felt he 'wasn't a natural-born scientist'.

The Chime link-up should enable De Facto – a niche business that has had two former guises and which rode the back of the 1999-2000 biotech boom – to work with more big-brand clients, he says.

It takes some teasing out, but Anderson, a 45-year-old Surrey man with a passion for France and wine, is particularly enthusiastic about future growth in medical education and clinical trials marketing. Of the latter, he says: 'We've stolen a march on this, particularly in Europe. We're doing it now in about 30 countries, including the Ukraine, India, Singapore and Malaysia.'

The future is looking up, then. But the past few years have not been kind to De Facto, which has shrunk to less than half the size of its predecessor HCC De Facto. Anderson recalls previous heady times: 'We couldn't get [potential clients] away from the door fast enough – anything from the professor at the local hospital to dentists believing they had a great idea.'

Anderson's first agency HCC, the marketing business he set up with Richard Hayhurst and Paul Conington in 1989, merged with PR specialist De Facto in 1997.

'HCC' was later dropped from the name, with Hayhurst leaving to set up Hayhurst Media and Conington now running Conscience Creative Partnership. Sue Charles, CEO of De Facto at the time of the merger, also departed to run a newer firm, biotech rival Northbank Communications, while director David Dible (and three others) quit for Citigate Dewe Rogerson almost two years ago.

Conington says of his former business: 'There was a slump in biotech and they went through a stage of evaluating what they were doing. But they've got loyal clients and now they're doing well again.'

Similarly, Hayhurst says of Anderson: 'I'm glad he's got the business into shape and going in a direction that must fit Chime's vision.'
Anderson's own interest in scientific discovery was triggered by an A-level in zoology at school in Kingston-upon-Thames. He then studied the subject at Leeds University. His stint at Imperial College London came to a close, he says, because he wanted 'something with more of an edge to it' than seemingly endless research.

He joined a Finnish medical company, Labsystems, as a product manager, transferring to its HQ in Helsinki in 1986. He recalls picking up only a smattering of the local tongue, dark nights and 'company ski trips by train to inside the Arctic Circle. There was dancing in the carriages as we went through Lappish villages'.

In 1989, having had enough long winters and -35oC temperatures, he and Hayhurst, who also worked in Helsinki, 'resigned one morning' and 'rushed back to England' to set up HCC – with Labsystems as its first client.

One legacy of Anderson's Finnish days is that he still skis around three times a year in France where, for the past two years, he has also rented a 'hectare or something' of vines in the region of Bergerac. Is it good plonk? 'It's alright – it's table wine. Just a bit of fun,' he says. He also has three children (aged nine, seven and 18 months).

As conversation returns to De Facto he reveals that he is already working alongside Chime's only other healthcare PR outfit, Ozone (for Johnson & Johnson in the surgical products arena), while there are also plans to work with Chime's Bell Pottinger Corporate &
Financial arm on an undisclosed client.

Anderson reflects: 'Ten years ago most biotechs didn't recognise the need to communicate – scientists thought their ideas were enough. But they nearly all realise it's such a competitive world now.'

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