'My enjoyment is on the phone: whether it's a scrap with a tabloid
editor or getting clients on the front of GQ,' says Reading, 36, recently in the news for bagging the contract to plug X-Factor winner Shayne Ward. 'Ninety minutes after Shayne won [on 17 December] we held a press conference to which all media were invited. But now the PR campaign for Shayne is simple: less is more.
'We are not treating him like someone who has won a talent show. Our campaign will mirror that of a major star. I don't want to liken him to Justin Timberlake or Robbie Williams – but that's the way we're working.'
Reading's offices are adorned with front pages and discs of Westlife, a past client. There is also a framed cartoon of a man bent over a table with a paparazzo's camera wedged between his buttocks, captioned: 'It's the worst case of media intrusion we've ever seen.'
Reading clearly relishes sparring with the tabs, cutting deals between clients and editors. He recalls, for instance, 'people sniffing around' the story ten years ago that Paul O'Grady had a daughter. 'I said [to Paul] "Let's do an exclusive with The Sun". Stuart Higgins [then editor] was great – in 24 hours we were in a suite at the Waldorf and it was all done.'
He estimates that he is involved with similar copy and picture-approval deals once a month. Such is his world that he asks to approve the picture taken by PRWeek (request refused, he relents).
Reading says of the tabloids: 'There aren't the characters coming through in the showbiz world. When I started there was Rick Sky, Kevin O'Sullivan, Garry Bushell – I don't see their equivalents coming through the ranks.'
Higgins says of Reading: 'Neil built relationships with senior showbiz journalists who went on to be editors. He's grown up with them really, and so he's friends with them as well as working with them.'
With Ward currently in Sweden recording his first album, Reading – whose agency has just eight staff – was this week busy launching Paul McKenna's new Sky One show. His longest-standing client is Victoria Wood.
But just half his fees come from personality PR, the rest from promoting entertainment and TV production companies, plus bars, clubs and restaurants – such as those of Marco Pierre White. This year will see Reading handling a European campaign for the relaunch of Las Vegas's Aladdin resort under the Planet Hollywood brand.
He also has a two-strong sister consumer agency, NRPR. It is his second foray into mainstream consumer work, after a link-up with Kelly Luchford's larger GBH Communications in October 2001 soon floundered. He reflects on the ill-fated firm: 'Things didn't work out and we quickly decided to demerge.'
Single and childless ('as far as I know!'), Reading grew up in Kent as an aspiring actor, a Saturday job at Underwoods the chemist leading to a marketing assistant role. His PR career started at publicity outfit Beer Davies, but after four 'fantastic' years he left to go it alone, aged just 23. 'I wish I'd gone to work at another agency before setting up on my own,' he says. 'I have only previously seen one type of man management.'
The self-confessed 'foodie' eats at The Ivy two to three times a week – 'I can get in at a couple of hours' notice' – and he recently took up boxing.
Reading – whose mother and office manager Gretta supplied the pre-interview tea – says he was recently sent 50 CVs after advertising for an admin job: 'These jobs don't come around so often but I was really disappointed with most CVs we got. Most wanted to work in [sarcastically] "the media" – there was no actual passion for entertainment PR.'
Clearly not an attribute Reading could ever be accused of lacking.
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