Profile: Alix Robson, APR

Back in the 1990s, the name Aurelia Public Relations was synonymous with lavish parties, premium brands and A-list socialites. Its founder, Aurelia Cecil – an attractive, titled, ex-girlfriend of Prince Andrew – was the agency’s ambassador and public face.

Throughout this time, Alix Robson was joint managing director and, as she puts it, 'the internal face of the agency. I was the client service and business person.'

'It was social PR,' admits the well-spoken Robson, who is married to Cubitt Consulting founder and MD Simon Brocklebank-Fowler, and whose father was British ambassador to Norway.

She recalls the Versace/De Beers 'Diamonds Are Forever' party in 1999: 'It was the absolute era of high spend, high glamour, high octane – we had the world's media there,' alongside the Prince of Wales, Liz Hurley and Simon and Yasmin Le Bon.

Where high-profile parties are concerned, says Robson, 'we invented the sector – I think that's something nobody would argue with.'

But after the heydey came a difficult period. The agency was at the end of its earnout period – having been sold to Abbott Mead Vickers in 1997 – when the economy faltered in 2001. The agency was hit hard, as were its clients. 'The events market all but disappeared,' Robson recalls.

After a period of rebuilding, Robson bought the agency in 2005. And this spring she is rebranding it to APR, a name – she hopes – that both embraces 'a glorious past' and allows her to put her own stamp on it. Rather than throwing glitzy parties, she argues, 'clients have to be more creative with their budgets and build their profile in a more strategic, thoughtful way'.

Even with premium brands such as Country Life and Salvatore Ferragamo still on its books, there's no escaping the fact that APR does not find itself in the position it enjoyed ten years ago. There are now just five staff – down from 30 in the 1990s – and iconic brands, such as Versace and Jaguar, have taken their business elsewhere.
Now, Robson's plan is to recapture the magic, using more 'restrained and discreet' techniques. 'These days you need a much more targeted, less scattergun approach,' she asserts.

For instance, APR recently previewed a Salvatore Ferragamo collection in designer Allegra Hicks's home, inviting 15 'high-profile ladies' – from a Greek princess to TV makeover queen Trinny Woodhall –  to choose a bag from the range.

Robson, now 42, began her career as a freelance writer for Vogue and Harpers & Queen. But in 1986 she left fashion journalism and joined corporate PR agency Christopher Morgan & Partners (now Trimedia Communications) to gain a foot in the door of the comms industry. From there she joined Sterling (now GCI), 'which was a hip, cool, successful agency just off the King's Road in Chelsea'.

Former GCI boss Adrian Wheeler, to whom she reported, says: 'Even back then Alix was the most stylish person I'd ever met. She was famous for it; she almost could have stepped out of the pages of Vogue.' Wheeler regards Robson's decision to rebrand the agency as 'much less dangerous than most – she was always extremely together'.

Although Robson's ideal way to relax is 'going around the shops', she is also fascinated by brand development and 'retail at an intellectual level'. 'Anyone can say "I love handbags" – don't we all?' she contends. 'But you have to look beyond that, seeing what goes on under the skin of the brand.'

At the weekend, she spends any free time 'hanging out' with her husband and eight-year-old daughter, but Robson never really switches off: 'The BlackBerry isn't known as the "CrackBerry" for nothing. It's addictive.

'And if someone asks me about hobbies, I think: "Well, I work a minimum of ten to 12 hours a day", which doesn't leave much time,' she admits. Instead, Robson is focusing on her ambition 'to re-attain our status as the place for premium brands. I think the "go to" status that the agency lost is achievable again.'

CV
1986  Account executive, Christopher Morgan & Partners (now Trimedia Communications)

1998 Account director, Sterling
(now GCI)

1991 Head of PR, The Royal Palaces

1995 Senior account director, Aurelia PR 

1996 Board director, Aurelia PR
(rising to managing director)

2006 Managing director, APR

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