PROFILE: Robert Gordon Clark, MD and chairman, London Communications Agency

It feels appropriate that Robert Gordon Clark's shiny new office sits directly opposite the derelict shell of the old Middlesex Hospital. Boarded up and sporting graffiti, the hospital awaits its £1bn makeover by development wunderkinds Candy & Candy.

Robert Gordon Clark: up for award
Robert Gordon Clark: up for award

By 2010, the site will be transformed into 273 luxurious apartments. Of course, this all depends on Westminster City Council; the project has yet to be granted planning consent.

The Candy brothers would do well to look across the road to Gordon Clark and his London Communications Agency (LCA). Since 1999, Gordon Clark, co-founder Jonny Popper and their team have lobbied borough councils and the Greater London Authority on behalf of city developers with much success.

On the day of PRWeek’s visit, however, Gordon Clark is unwell. He sits, looking slightly peaky, glugging milk and apologising for whatever lurgy he’s managed to pick up from long hours working. It is clear that he’s not his usual gregarious self. He doesn’t give much away, neither about his views on current affairs nor his opinions on important London regeneration projects such as the 2012 Olympics. The one topic that Gordon Clark is willing to discuss at length is the King’s Cross redevelopment, which he clearly considers the flagship project of his career.

In December 1999, he signed on to provide public affairs consultancy to the Arg­ent group for its proposed redevelopment of the King’s Cross area. In June, some eight years later, property giant Argent and partners London and Continental Railways were granted planning permission for eight million square feet of mixed-use development. The first Eurostar train is scheduled to arrive at St Pancras this November.

But when explaining the King’s Cross project, Gordon Clark gets excited. He talks about the rather unusual way he chose to thank his clients, residents of the King’s Cross area and engineers involved in the project for their eight years of hard work and waiting. Gordon Clark commissioned two plays on the history of St Pancras: one on the life and times of station engineer William Barlow, and one on the poet Sir John Betjeman, who was instrumental in saving the old Gothic hotel at St Pancras from demolition in the last century.

These two plays were not low-budget backroom performances, either. Shakespearean actor and Star Wars cast member Julian Glover played Betjeman, as Gordon Clark is quick to note. ‘It’s just an int­eresting way of communicating your messages,’ he says of the plays. ‘It’s a different form of corporate entertainment.’

Perhaps it is his flair for the theatrical that has served him so well over his years in the PR industry. He reveals that he’s just been cast in the Questor’s Theatre adaptation of Great Expectations, which will be staged this November. ‘I’m playing three or four little parts and I’m in the chorus,’ he says. ‘I used to act an awful lot when I was younger. I was General Haig in Oh, What a Lovely War, which caused great hilarity in the office, with all the similarities between him and me!’

Gordon Clark’s love of the theatre manifests itself in his working life. A member of the family that owns drinks firm Matthew Clark, he moved away from the business into the arts world in the late 1980s.

The London Communicatons Agency has taken on the Young Vic theatre company as a pro bono client; Gordon Clark ref­ers to this as his ‘passion project’. Recently, he and a colleague at the agency performed in a concert for LandAid, the property industry’s charity. ‘I did the growling, shouting part in the B52’s Love Shack in front of 1,000 people,’ he says with a laugh, and a half-joking offer to reprise this
performance.

In addition to his LCA responsibilities. the 46-year-old is non executive director of architecture illustration studio Hayes Davidson, trustee of the Mayor’s Thames Festival, vice-president of the Honourable Artillery Company Cricket Club, and governor and chair of the development committee at St John’s School in Leatherhead.

While his business pursuits may not seem immediately suited to theatrical flourishes, it seems Gordon Clark’s passion for all things artistic has had a hand in his success. While thumbing through a battered old volume on London history taken from the makeshift library in the back of the agency, he points to a page on the dev­elopment of King’s Cross in the 19th century. The ill­ustration on the encyclopedia page is of the original monument to King George IV, a statue erected at the meeting of what are now Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross Road and York Way in 1836.

‘We put an image of this statue on the front of our tender document,’ he says. ‘We wanted to show Arg­ent that we cared about the history of the area.’ His app­roach seems to be working; the LCA won this year’s CIPR award for outstanding agency, and was revealed last week as being on the shortlist for PR Week’s specialist agency of the year award.

Longtime acquaintance and Lexis founder Tim Adams agrees Gordon Clark’s involvement in the theatre has helped his business succeed above its competitors. ‘He’s not just interested in the theatre; he’s involved in it,’ says Adams.

Gordon Clark’s client and friend Roger Madelin, joint CEO of Argent, agrees. ‘He does listen, and there’s a sense of keenness,’ says Madelin. ‘He feels that theatre can be used to entertain in a business way. He loves it, and that comes across. His eyes sparkle, and he starts preening himself. He’s just about ready to go on stage’

TURNING POINTS...

PRWeek: What was your biggest career break?

Gordon Clark: Well, the first was getting the head of comm-unications job at London First, which involved no less than six interviews with senior PR people. The second was Jonny Popper agreeing to join me when I set up London Communications Agency.

What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

GC: I’d advise anyone in consultancy to continually check your diary as the most effective day, week or month is one where you see the clients when they want to see you. As you progress, I’d simply say that if you keep the clients happy and your colleagues motivated, you can’t really go wrong.

PRWeek: Who was your most notable mentor?

GC: Honor Chapman of JLL, one of the top women in the property industry, who stretched me intellectually. Also, Lord Allen Sheppard of Didgemere, chairman of London First, who inspired me to try to get 10/10 every time. And Stephen O’Brien, CEO of London First, who taught me how to bring out the best in people.

PRWeek: What characteristic do you prize in new recruits?

GC: First and foremost, a real interest in London, as that’s what we are all about. Secondly, people who thrive on intelligence gathering. Third, people with a strong sense of humour and alove of music.

1999
MD and chairman, London Communic-ations Agency

1993
Head of comms then deputy chief exec-utive, London First

1990
Head of public affairs, London Arts Board

1989
Opened gallery in New York, CCA Galleries

1983
Marketing manager, Matthew Clark and Sons

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