Entering Alan Edwards’ bijou office, nestling at the top of an inauspicious office block on London’s Tottenham Court Road, is a bit like walking into an auction run by the Hard Rock Café.
The walls are adorned with rock and sports star memorabilia, including a framed photo of the Beckhams – with ‘thanks Alan! love, Victoria x’ scrawled in felt tip – various signed platinum discs, and autographed football boots from the players of his beloved Arsenal FC.
Edwards celebrated his fiftieth birthday recently but remains the coolest man in British PR. This is because despite all the celebrity clients, and his relentless lifestyle, he retains a uniquely unassuming, relaxed and engaging demeanour.
An early Clash album is playing quietly on the huge iMac on his desk, and Edwards politely offers PRWeek a sandwich. He speaks with the sort of 1960s London accent now confined to rockers such as Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Roger Daltrey, all of which he has represented and knows well.
Edwards has long advised Jagger – as well as doing the occasional project for mega-band Led Zeppelin – but he has augmented such riff-laden dinosaurs with feisty female charges such as Amy Winehouse and Naomi Campbell.
Indeed, he recently handled the press around another of the supermodel’s farcical court appearances. This time he had to spend the day at Uxbridge Magistrates Court, where Campbell was appearing on a charge of assaulting police officers following a fracas on a BA plane earlier this year.
‘Days like that are exciting,’ says Edwards in his laconic drawl. ‘But at the time it’s a blur. At one point Naomi’s head tilted and she almost passed out. Some sort of sugar-loss thing apparently. Someone had to run out and buy her a bar of Galaxy. At the same time I’m trying to keep the news reporters up to date. It was quite surreal. The chocolate bar has now arrived, I heard myself telling the tabloid editors there.’
Inevitably, as one of the UK’s foremost celebrity advisers, crisis management takes up a fair chunk of Edwards’ energy: ‘It’s not necessarily a huge amount of my time, but it does require an enormous amount of thought. You’re often working in conjunction with lawyers, and the advice is constantly changing. You have seconds to explain the actions of your client.’
For years Edwards has tried to broaden his agency’s business. ‘I have always
admired what Matthew Freud has done in that space where celebrity means cons¬umer brand,’ he admits.
Edwards’ Outside Organisation – named after David Bowie’s 1995 concept album Outside – has diversified to some extent. Today, with 45 staff and 80 clients, it handles major corporate work for EMI and manages the iconic Brit Awards.
He also quite justifiably claims to have ‘contributed to the creation of Brand Beckham’ yet he continues to agonise over what his agency should ultimately become.
‘PR is at a turning point,’ he muses. ‘It is merging with advertising as one discipline. This means it is becoming a lot more creative and exciting. We strive towards 360-degree thinking. We are mavericks, yet we are driven by strategy and creativity.’
The dilemma for Edwards, particularly as he enters his sixth decade, is how much longer his agency can or should remain independent: ‘Selling the company is not central to my thinking. I’m more interested in strategic alliances – which could enable int¬ernational expansion – or in maybe selling a stake, which could open doors.’
Edwards is clearly a long way from ret¬irement. ‘There’s an enormous amount of energy and love invested in this agency,’ he reflects. ‘I’ve no real interest in retiring. I’d find spending months in the south of France, on a yacht, quite boring.’ He does admit, however, that steering Outside has been a ‘lonely journey’ at times.
Edwards says he was a PR man from the age of five. ‘Even then I was a right chatterbox, telling 20 people about something I’d seen on TV, and by the age of 11 I was obsessed with media. I already knew the bylines of all the football writers.’
He even got his first job in PR at the age of 16, working for the legendary rock PRO Keith Altham.
‘There never was a plan B,’ he says. ‘It has always been about my clients, about relationships with the media.’ And he now has friends at the highest echelons of newspapers, the music industry and politics.
Edwards says one secret he learned from Jagger – his mentor in many respects – is to go for a run every single morning.
As a result one suspects his career longevity could well match that of the Stones’ eternally youthful frontman.
What was your biggest career break?
[Legendary promoter] Harvey Goldsmith recommending me to the Rolling Stones as a PR man, even though I was only 24 years old.
What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?
Don’t be too impatient and chop and change employers all the time. Develop contacts all the time. Think of the media as your partners as opposed to having an adversarial relationship with them.
Who was your most notable mentor?
Among many, it really has to be Keith Altham. He was a legendary man of rock and instructed me in the basics of PR in a formal way.
What do you prize most in new recruits?
Enthusiasm and communication skills are very important, as is the ability to write well. They need a desire to work hard and really achieve things. I like to know that they already know some of the key players in the media. I also look for some stability in previous jobs.
1995 Founder, Outside Organisation
1990 Head of entertainment, Rogers and Cowan
1978 Founder, Grant Edwards
1977 Founder, Modern Publicity
1974 PR assistant, Keith Altham Publicity
Photo: David Tett